• Christine Dorman

12 Summertime Herbs in Celtic Folklore and Medicine


Herbs have been used in medicine--and magic--for centuries.
Herbs have been used in medicine--and magic--for centuries.

This Monday, August 1st, is the Celtic festival of Lughnasa. It is a harvest celebration, so I thought it appropriate this week to write about one of my favorite agricultural items: herbs. Below is a list of delicious summertime herbs and their medicinal applications according to herbology and, in some cases, modern medicine. Of course, regular readers of “Celtic Moonfish” will know that I always want to include folklore. Accordingly, I’ve also mentioned each herb’s magical uses and properties according to Celtic folklore. Enjoy!


Basil

Basil is invaluable in Italian cooking. In herbology as well as Celtic folk medicine, it is just as invaluable because it is said to help a long list of illnesses and needs. While the herb has not yet been scientifically proven to help or heal any medical condition, in herbalism it is used to ease gastric issues, both diarrhea and constipation as well as loss of appetite. But that’s just the beginning. In folk medicine, this herb is nearly a panacea that is used to treat conditions ranging from insect bites to migraines to kidney disorders.

Its magical uses are equally far-ranging as basil can be used in love charms, magical protection, and even to enable one to fly. Reflect on that the next time you order pizza.

Stand with Ukraine and against tyranny.
Stand with Ukraine and against tyranny.

Bay

Bay leaves are not the all-heal that basil is. Still, they have their uses, namely in wound care to decrease inflammation and as a pain reliever. Scientific studies have shown that drinking tea made from bay leaves can increase the level of good cholesterol in one’s system. It is said to lower total cholesterol but, currently, there is insufficient evidence for this claim. Bay also is said to help with diabetes by lowering blood sugar, but this also has not yet been proven. Finally, it is said to help fight cancer, but studies have not yet demonstrated this.


According to folklore, bay provides powerful protection and can assist in other ways too. It provides healing, strength, and good fortune. It dispels confusion and fear and can improve your psychic ability. Bay also can help make your wishes come true. Folklore says to write your desire on leaves then burn the leaves to achieve your desire. Please note: I make no guarantees. I simply report what the lore says.


Chicory

Most people associate chicory with coffee but this plant, in bloom, produces pretty blue flowers. Its leaves are edible and can be tossed in a salad or cooked as a side vegetable. It does need balanced with another food, though, as it is a bit bitter on its own.


In studies, this herb has been demonstrated to help people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease to lose weight. In herbal medicine, chicory is used to lower blood pressure. Scientific studies don’t yet show evidence of its effectiveness in this area. It also is said to ease skin inflammation and decrease pain from osteoarthritis.

While many people think of chicory as a bitter ingredient in some coffee blends, the plant produces beautiful flowers.
While many people think of chicory as a bitter ingredient in some coffee blends, the plant produces beautiful flowers.

Folklore says this herb can help to gain favors and remove obstacles. It also is said to help produce invisibility.


Chives

In herbal medicine, chives are used to aid digestive issues. They also may boost the immune system and promote bone health. Some sources claim chives help prevent cancer but there is no evidence for this.


According to folklore, chives may be used to help with weight loss and to provide general protection.


Mint

Mint, as a general category, is used to help a variety of health issues. Included among these are easing fatigue, nausea and other forms of gastric distress, as well as helping with colds, the flu, and bronchitis. Mint plants also are said to help with sinus problems, increase alertness, and lift one’s mood.


In the area of magic, it is important to note that different varieties of mint produce somewhat different results. For example, peppermint increases one’s psychic powers, is used in purification, and can help with love and healing. Spearmint also helps with love and healing. In addition, it protects you while you sleep. Wintergreen calms fears and anxiety and, so, produces calmness.


Red Clover Flowers

The flowering tops of this herb are used to ease osteoporosis and to help one with the symptoms of menopause. Red clover also is used to treat bronchitis.

Folklore says carrying red clover provides protection from witches and faeries. Washing in water infused with its leaves is said to attract prosperity. It also is used to help with anything having to do with love and romance.

Drinking raspberry leaf tea can be beneficial to your health--and your love life.
Drinking raspberry leaf tea can be beneficial to your health--and your love life.

Red Raspberry

The fruit and leaves of this plant are edible. In herbal medicine, raspberry is used to ease sore throats, diarrhea, and incontinence.


In folklore, red raspberry is considered a feminine herb and, so, is used to help with the full range of women’s health issues from menstrual problems to pregnancy to menopause. As a red herb, it is associated with the heart and with all things romantic, such as love charms, magic to heal marital problems, and so on.


Rose

Rose hips are a common ingredient in herbal teas. Traditionally, they are believed to help lower blood pressure and cholesterol as well as to help with osteoporosis. But more than the hips can be used. The essence of rose is used to flavor food and rose oil is used for aroma therapy.


Celtic folklore associates roses with love and passion. If you want to attract romance, bath in rose petal-infused water or spray some rosewater on your wrist or across your threshold. Is that someone special coming to dinner? Burn rose-scented candles. But be warned. Roses are also said to incite passion.

Rosemary

Rosemary has been shown to improve memory and cognitive awareness in young adults when taken orally. It has been found to be even more effective in achieving this when it’s used in aromatherapy.


In addition to improving mental powers and inducing sleep, rosemary, according to folklore, can heal, protect, and purify. The herb is considered excellent for attracting love and was used in wedding bouquets. Sadly, it also was used in burial wreaths.


Sage was a part of any Celtic Fairy Doctor's medicine chest.
Sage was a part of any Celtic Fairy Doctor's medicine chest.

Sage

In medieval times, this herb was associated with remembering. As it turns out, scientific studies have shown that taking sage increases alertness and improves memory in healthy adults. It also seems to improve learning, memory, and information processing in people with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease. It is thought to help with the chemical imbalances that cause the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.


The Celts considered sage a cure-all and it was part of any Fairy Doctor’s medicine chest. In addition, the herb was used in purification rituals and was employed to reverse spells.

Thyme

At present, science says there is insufficient evidence to prove any medicinal efficacy for thyme, but that just means its effectiveness as a medicine hasn’t been studied enough yet by scientists.

Celtic folklore also connects rosemary and thyme to mental acuity. Strangely, it also claims both herbs help induce sleep. In addition, thyme, according to the lore, increases one’s psychic abilities.


In addition, according to folklore, thyme is said to attract loyalty, affection, and even romantic love. It can help to ease unbearable grief and provide strength and courage. Thyme is used for purification and the banishing of evil spirits and negative forces. It also wards off nightmares. Perhaps that’s why it’s a good sleep aid.

Yarrow

In herbal medicine, yarrow is excellent for wound care. In Celtic folklore, it ensured a newly married couple's happiness for seven years.
In herbal medicine, yarrow is excellent for wound care. In Celtic folklore, it ensured a newly married couple's happiness for seven years.

Yarrow was a medicine chest essential for any medieval doctor and it still gets credit today as potentially having many health benefits. Primarily, it is used for wounds, especially as a topical anti-inflammatory. Very few scientific studies have been done on yarrow, so it is used today in herbal, rather than mainstream medicine.


Traditional medicine says that it works well in promoting the healing of wounds. Also, it is said to be an antispasmodic which eases digestive issues. As an essential oil, yarrow is said to lessen anxiety. The herb also has been said to help with neurological conditions, specifically stroke, epilepsy, and Parkinson’s but, again, extensive scientific research has not been done to give evidence of this.


In Celtic folklore, yarrow was used for love charms as well as in handfasting and wedding rituals. It is said to keep a newly married couple happy, preventing anything from upsetting their relationship for seven years. After that, I guess the couple was on their own. The herb also was carried as an amulet to ward off fears and banish anxiety, a tradition that intersects with the herbal medicine belief that yarrow has anti-anxiety properties.


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Happy Lughnasa!

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