Just wanted to share something I’ve been working on recently:
1. English Bluebell
Hyacinthoides non scripta
This perennial woodland flower is a native of Britain, where it is a protected plant and where mass growth can indicate ancient woodland. It has been cultivated since 1500 in Europe and has escaped into the wild in the northeast of the US. This is a classic Fae plant. Some string bluebell flowers on Beltane to attract the Fae. Others believe that if you hear a bluebell ring, you or someone close to you will die. In the UK bluebells are sometimes found growing in a huge mass in the woods. It was thought unlucky to cross through such a mass because it was full of Fae spells. Children were especially considered to be vulnerable to being trapped in a bluebell glade by Fairy magick.
At the same time, this is a Saturn plant often associated with death and planted on graves as a comfort to those left behind. Another Latin name for this plant is Endymion, for a shepherd boy with whom the Moon goddess Selene (later identified with Diana) fell in love. She asked that he be granted eternal life, and he was made to sleep forever. Selene visited his grave each night to kiss him. He helped her bear 50 daughters. In this myth we can see the idea of death’s link to life and fertility. Perhaps because of Endymion’s eternal sleep, bluebells are said to help prevent nightmares if kept near the sleeper or sewn into a dream pillow.
In the language of flowers, bluebell represents humility, delicacy, and constancy. In contrast, its flower essence is associated with Pan and helps one feel joyful and spontaneous. Ruffs were stiffened with the starch of its bulbs, and its sap was used to bind books, glue paper, and stick feathers onto arrows. Although it is a folk cure for snakebite, the plant is poisonous. Its dangerous chemicals are being researched as treatments for cancers and infections from HIV. Bluebells are also known as Auld Man’s Bells, Calverkeys, Culverkeys, English Bluebell, Jacinth, Ring-o’-Bells, Wilde Hyacinth, Wood Bells, crowtoes, crawtees, deadmen’s bells, and cuckoo bells.
A circumpolar native, this magick herb is found in North America as well as Northern Europe and the British Isles, where it has been grown since the Middle Ages. There it is strongly connected to the Good Folk, like many bell-shaped flowers, and people did not dig it out of their gardens in order not to offend them. The Victorians believed that fairies slept in the bells or used them as goblets for dew. At one time it was said that if a maiden counted the harebells she saw three times as the sun rises or as the dew falls, she would see Fairies, to whom she should curtsy three times to acquire their good wishes. According to Cunningham, someone wearing the flowers is unable to lie. But this flower didn’t stop the fabled Ganconer, or Love Talker, an Irish Fairy, from using lies to connive lonely Irish maidens into lovemaking and then disappearing. Some folk in the British Isles believed that these flowers would ring to warn hares of nearby foxes (thus, they are harebells), but another rabbity connection is that witches utilized the sap of this plant to change themselves into hares, so consider this plant for shapeshifting.
In North America, Haida Indians cautioned their children not to pick these flowers, or it would rain. And Navajo folk rubbed this plant on their bodies for protection while hunting or to keep off witchcraft. They also made a ceremonial fumigant from this plant to smudge a sick person against various ills, implying that these ills might have some supernatural cause. Harebells don’t have a traditional planetary association, oddly enough, but because of their strong connection with magick and shapeshifting, their delicate, wiry stems, and their ability to quickly spread in certain situations, I will say they are Mercury.
In the Victorian language of flowers, bluebells of Scotland signify grief, gratitude, or submission. The harebell is the emblem of the Macdonalds, and its flower provided a blue dye that was used to color the wool for tartans (if you have info about how this was done, please let me know). It apparently had no medicinal uses in the British Isles (makes sense, considering pulling it up would attract negative attention from powerful beings), but the Cree and other Indians had no such qualms and used the root medicinally. The leaves of this wonderful cottage garden plant are edible in salads and boiled as a potherb. Butterflies, moths, and bees like the flowers. Harebells are also known as bluebells of Scotland, witches’ thimbles, lady’s thimbles, Fairy bells, Fairy thimbles, Devil’s bells, Aul Man’s bells, dead men’s bells, heath bells, cuckoo’s hood, milk ort, and in Gaelic, Méaracán gorm.
This native of southern Europe became especially beloved in northern Europe, where it has been used since prehistoric times. A member of the cabbage family, this native herb provided the only fast blue dye available in the West until the introduction of indigo in the mid-1600s. As with indigo, the dye process is complicated enough that you wonder how people ever discovered it. Overdye a woad-colored fabric with weld to make Lincoln green, the color worn by Robin Hood’s men. A kind customer sent in a quote from The Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom that implies that the Picts painted woad patterns upon their bodies in order to aid in shapeshifting.
This is a Saturn herb, probably because of its sulfur content and because its dye produces a Saturn color. It has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for sore throats, hepatitis, fevers (clears heat), and as an antiseptic, and in times of famine was eaten with oil and salt. In Europe, it was used as a poultice for pain in the spleen, for skin ulcers, and to stop bleeding. This is an invasive plant in western states because it likes to grow in open sites, and since people tend to clear land of trees, woad has become real attached to humans. It isn’t edible for livestock, though; this is another reason why it is considered a “pest.” A short-lived perennial or biennial, this herb forms a rosette of leaves the first year. The tap root can get more than 5ft/1.5m long, so this is a good selection for soil that needs breaking up and nutrients brought to the surface. The second year, a stalk up to 4ft/1.2 m high comes up with the flowers on it. Woad can be grown throughout much of North America
Primula veris (officinalis)
This perennial Venus herb is associated with Beltane (which gets its name from a yellow flower, probably the marsh marigold) and Freya (the flowers represent the keys to her treasure). It has long been popular in the British Isles for magickal and medicinal uses and was grown in medieval gardens. There, even dried primrose flowers are considered to be a favorite hiding place of certain fairies who ride bats. In Ireland on Beltane eve farmers would crush cowslip leaves and put the juice on their cows’ udders to protect them throughout the year and to ensure that the cows’ milk production would not be stolen by supernatural means. Because the flowers are thought to look like a bunch of keys hanging down, this plant is sometimes connected with unlocking secrets or finding hidden things. Interestingly enough, in Manx, cowslip protected cows from fairies, evil spirits, and those pesky witches who just can’t get enough of harassing a farmer’s cows. There, cowslips were burned on Mayday specifically to get rid of the fairies that hid there. However, this magick herb was also strewn at the entrance of houses to keep fairies out (perhaps by attracting them to the flowers). Shakespeare referred to the five red spots in the yellow flower as fairy rubies. Honey from cowslips in some parts of Europe is considered the best for making mead. In Wales, long stalks on cowslip mean a wet summer, and short stalks a dry one. Cowslip is connected to the rune Kaunaz, apparently because of its color (and in this sense, it is a Fire of Sun plant). Probably because it is helpful to the skin, it is thought to preserve youth when it is worn.
This early spring flower is a Eurasian native that left the forest glades and took up residence in meadows when people began dairy farming, but it has become almost extinct in areas such as the British Isles because of modern farming practices, including the use of herbicides, and because of overpicking to make wine and to decorate one’s house on Mayday. Wild cowslips should not be picked; plant some instead. It has been cultivated in the US since at least 1827 and in the British Isles since at least 1400. The flowers’ scent is considered healing and is similar to anise. The leaves and flowers have been added to salads, and leaves can be cooked as a “sallet” (like spinach) or in soups. Or if you get enough of them, make some cowslip wine, which is a sedative and nervine and helpful in trancework.
As one would expect from a Venus herb, this plant is soothing to both body and mind. The flowers (only the yellow part, not the green part) are made into a tea drunk as a remedy for headaches, dizziness, chills, head colds, cramps, nerve pain, falling sickness, palsy, and convulsions, as well as nightmares, frenzies, false apparitions. Combined with hops and passionflower, the flowers make a good sleepytime tea. Tinctured flowers are taken for insomnia and anxiety. The flower essence is comforting and lifts emotions when one is feeling vulnerable. The flowers are sometimes incorporated into night creams because of their helpfulness in rejuvenating skin, which is probably why cowslip is thought to preserve youth if carried about or worn. The flowers are made into an ointment for sunburn, wrinkles, and pimples. Leaves are applied as a poultice to wounds. The dried root is decocted and drunk as an expectorant for bronchitis and arthritis (it contains salicylic acid) and compresses soaked in the decoction are used for arthritis pain. The decocted root is also anti-spasmodic. Don’t use cowslip when you are pregnant, as it can stimulate the uterus. Cowslip is a very friendly herb, but some people do get dermatitis from touching the stamens (the little stalks inside the flower that hold the pollen).
Its Many Names
Some say this plant is called “cowslip” because this plant was once found in abundance in cow pastures, where there is always “cu-sloppe,” cow manure; others say it means the flowers smell milky (like a cow’s breath) or like a nursing baby. This herb is also known as Arthritica, Aretyke, Bainne Bó Bleachtáin, Buckles, Crewel, Cuy lippe, Drelip, Fairy Cup, Freya’s Key, Herb Peter (for the alleged resemblance of the flowers to keys), Key Flower, Key of Heaven, Lady’s Key, Lippe, Mayflower, Mulleins, Our Lady’s Keys, Paigle, Palsywort, Paralysios, Password, Peggle, Petty Mulleins, Plumrocks, and Primula officinalis.