Happy New Year! Do you ever wonder why we celebrate the passing of another year? There may be various answers to that. One certainly is that a new year gives us a chance to start fresh, to let go of all the stuff of last year, and to look forward in hope of what the new one will bring. As I wrote Christmas and Happy Holiday cards, I kept writing phrases like “May you have blessings of peace, joy, and health in the New Year.” The lyrics to the classic Christmas song, “Feliz Navidad” include a good wish for the New Year. Although the English part of the lyric keeps repeating “I want to wish you a Merry Christmas,” the Spanish part adds, “próspero año y Felicidad.” The narrator wishes everyone a happy and prosperous New Year.
So, what does any of this have to do with Celtic folklore? I was thinking over the holiday that we say these things to others and wish them for ourselves, but how can we realize those good wishes? If we want health, we can do healthy things. Sadly, that’s no guarantee. We can work hard to achieve prosperity, but many people work hard all their lives and never get ahead. Celtic folklore offers a ray of hope: plant magic.
Of course, I’m offering the information in this post to entertain you and to keep Celtic folklore alive. That said, there are numerous examples of “magical” benefits Celtic folklore certain herbs offer that have ended up being scientifically true. For example, white willow bark contains a pain reliever related to the active ingredient in aspirin and ginger really does help reduce indigestion and nausea. So, perhaps the following folklore may not be complete malarky.
An axiom says you have everything if you have your health. That’s not necessarily true. Love, peace, and financial security play important roles in our lives too. But reasonably good health helps you enjoy those others.
There are a large number of plants that Celtic folklore says are good for your health. Many are good for specific ailments. Others simply contribute to your overall well-being. Of all the aspects of folk medicine and folk magic, claims that certain plants can cure what ails you is the most researched by science—with some pretty good results.
Among those herbs recommended both by folklore and by modern science are, as mentioned above, the gastric relievers ginger and peppermint. Lavender and chamomile have become well-known as stress reducers, and folklore recommends lavender as a sleep aid. Spearmint might also help you to get a good night’s rest as, according to folklore, it protects you while you sleep. And modern medicine says that sleeping well contributes to overall good health.
In Celtic folklore, elderberry is associated with protection and is said to have banishing powers. Today, it is extolled for its ability to boost the immune system. But that banishing ability hasn’t disappeared. Clinical studies have shown that taking elderberry syrup can reduce the symptoms of colds and influenza and decrease the duration of those illnesses to 2-4 days. It also can make pain go away. Science says it has anti-inflammatory properties which may decrease the aches and pains associated with viral infections.
One of the lesser-known herbs that fits this category is stinging nettle. While it can cause a nasty rash to those who handle it without gloves, the health benefits of stinging nettle have been touted in Ireland for centuries. Scientific research says the plant has both anti-inflammatory and antihistamine properties. So, like elderberry, it can relieve your aches and pains. In addition, it has been identified as an effective decongestant that can ease nasal misery from colds and allergies.
Ivy is another plant whose health benefits haven’t yet been widely broadcasted. Ancient Celts brought the evergreen indoors during the winter in the belief that it would help the family survive the winter. And it may have. Science has discovered that the plant is a natural air purifier, a helpful thing to have around when colds and flu are running rampant.
A couple of honorable mentions in the category of health are basil and mistletoe. In Celtic folklore, basil is essentially credited with aiding in the treatment of a laundry list of ailments. Turns out that medical science is discovering the same thing. This delicious herb contains antioxidants and numerous vitamins and minerals. According to WebMD, it is said to help in the treatment of a host of medical conditions ranging from arthritis to heart disease to diabetes. It might even help prevent cancer.
Mistletoe was one of the most sacred plants to the ancient Celts. In part, this was because they considered it a panacea. However, unlike the other herbs I’ve mentioned above, it’s not recommended by science. And with good reason. Most varieties of mistletoe are poisonous to humans.
Prosperity and Luck
Whether you hope to win the lottery this year, want to attain a comfortable financial stability, or just have a wee bit of good luck, Celtic plant magic’s got you covered. This is more than finding a four-leaf clover (no easy task). Let me be clear before I begin, while scientific research backs up some of folklore’s claims about the health benefits of certain plants, the information in this section has no research data to back it up (as far as I know. Correct me if I’m wrong. Please.).
Want to win the lottery or go on a trip to Las Vegas? Make yourself some chamomile tea. Don’t drink it. Just let it cool then wash your hands in it. Yep. You read that right. According to folklore, washing your hands in chamomile tea will make you lucky at gambling.
If you’re not into gambling, get yourself some honeysuckle. There is an Irish belief that says when you bring honeysuckle into the house, you bring money in with it. Cloves, ginger, and cinnamon attract money too. As a bonus, those last three attract love and romance as well!
If you’re looking for a bit of good luck, forget the four-leaf clover. Instead, carry a hazelnut. Or allspice, clove, or nutmeg.
Love and Marriage
Celtic folklore has a wealth of advice on how to draw love to you magically. Not all of them involve herbs, but here are some of the plants that the lore says will help you in the romance department. Lavender and roses are kind of a given, so let’s discuss some less obvious plants and herbs.
The folklore says the red (or hot) spices, specifically cinnamon, clove, ginger, and allspice arouse passion. So, invite someone you’re interested in over for dinner, light a cinnamon candle, and serve a baked ham with pumpkin pie for dessert. Or have a spicy Moroccan stew and carrot cake. If things are a little more advanced with your relationship, consider serving chamomile tea with the dessert. Folklore says it can induce marriage proposals.
I said above that the Irish say that money will follow honeysuckle into the house, but the flower helps with romance. Folklore says that honeysuckle in the house will bring about a marriage within the year. Be warned, though, folklore also says the flower’s intoxicating aroma can produce risqué dreams!
In Welsh folk tradition, brides carry myrtle in their bouquets. After the wedding, the bride gives a cutting from myrtle to each of her bridesmaids. If the cutting grows after it’s planted, that lucky bridesmaid will soon be a bride herself.
Joy and Peace
An essential element in any life is joy. Although Celtic herbs can’t guarantee life-long happiness, the folklore does give a few recommendations to help boost your happiness meter.
Peace and a sense of calmness are steppingstones to joy. Of course, lavender and chamomile are renowned for their ability to relieve stress.
Above I mentioned that elderberry, according to Celtic folklore, has banishing powers. One of the things it is said to banish is negativity. So, while you’re taking an elderberry gummy to improve your immunity, you also may be shielding yourself from all the negative energy that can drain your happiness.
Speaking of happiness, the lore says both meadowsweet and hyacinth bring it. And having flowers around the house usually brightens people’s spirits (except for those who are allergic!).
The cheerful golden-yellow blossoms of the gorse bush (which is known as furze in Scotland) are said to be especially powerful in lifting one’s spirit. In fact, Celtic folklore claims that gorse can give courage and hope to those who are despairing.
I’ll end with my own favorite joy-bringer: mint. There are different varieties. Choose the one you like best. Each has slightly different gifts, according to the lore. For example, peppermint perks you up while wintergreen calms you by relieving anxiety. You might want to save spearmint for a nighttime bowl of ice cream since, as I’ve mentioned, it protects you while you sleep. Or so says the folklore.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this exploration of Celtic herbs for the New Year. Remember that this is meant for fun and a way to keep the folklore alive. Always check with your doctor or pharmacist before adding an herbal supplement to your health regime as some may interfere with prescription medicines. Other than that one word of caution, I encourage you to consider bringing these enchanting plants, herbs, and spices into your New Year. Who knows? Maybe they’ll add a touch of magic to your life.
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Slan go foil!