Winter Herbs and Celtic Magic
As Americans sit sipping their pumpkin spiced lattes and planning the menu for Thanksgiving, winter might seem far away. Actually, though, on the Celtic calendar, winter started almost two weeks ago at Samhain (November 1st). With its leafless trees and gray skies, winter can be dreary at times. Ancient Celts brought evergreens into the house during the winter to give faeries a warm place to live. They also hoped that the powerful magic that kept these plants alive and green throughout the winter would rub off on the family. Reflecting on this, I thought it would be fun this week to write about herbs that can be grown indoors during the winter. Not only will a winter herb garden bring some greenery into the house, but these herbs all have health benefits and, according to Celtic folklore, herbs have powerful magical properties.
Basil: This herb is good for way more than Italian foods. In Celtic folk medicine, basil helps with so many ailments, it is referred to as a cure-all. But what does modern science say about that? Plenty.
Basil is full of antioxidants as well as vitamins and minerals. It can help decrease the risk of heart disease. The herb’s essential oils lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. The magnesium in basil can help improve blood flow, helping to lower blood pressure. Basil also is said to decrease blood sugar levels, decreasing the chance of diabetes. Additionally, research has shown that chemicals in the herb can reduce anxiety and alleviate depression. It increases mental acuity and lowers the risk of age-related memory loss. Finally, it has anti-inflammatory properties which can ease arthritis as well as help with irritable bowel issues.
This delicious herb is no slouch when it comes to magic either. According to folklore, basil can dispel fears, weakness, and confusion. It is said to provide strong protection and can drive away hostile spirits. It also aids with flying, but I have no details on how. Sorry.
Bay Leaf: I’ve used bay leaves many times in cooking but, to be honest, I have no idea what flavor this herb imparts to a dish. If I left it out of a dish, I’m not sure I’d miss it. That said, it has a couple good health benefits. Scientific studies have shown bay to have antibacterial properties. It is particularly effective against staph and e coli. It also shows promise in lowering blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes. But the research on the latter was done using capsules of ground bay leaf. Currently, it’s doubtful that one serving of a stew made with one bay leaf will have much of an effect.
According to folklore, this herb has strong magic. It is said to impart strength, good fortune, and success. It also helps with purification, healing, and protection as well as increasing psychic powers. A folklore practice is to place bay leaves under your pillow in order to have prophetic dreams. Another practice is to put bay leaves in a sachet and place it in a corner of the house to protect all who live there.
A WebMD article strongly cautions never to take comfrey by mouth. In 2001, the FDA recommended that comfrey products be removed from store shelves. However, they can still be found and WebMD says the herb is excellent for healing injured tissues as well as decreasing the inflammation and swelling associated with them.
Because of comfrey’s traditional use as a treatment for injuries, it’s not surprising that Celtic folklore says its main magical property is to protect travelers. It also is said to increase endurance, provide stability, and protect from loss or theft.
Mint: This refreshing and hugely popular herb is perfect for growing indoors in a pot. If it’s planted in the garden, it can spread and take over. Its best-known health benefit is its ability to ease indigestion but scientific studies indicate it has the potential to help the brain as well. One study found that smelling peppermint increases alertness and improves memory. Another indicated the herb could help decrease symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease. But much more research needs to be done to verify these results. For now, science can say only that peppermint oil eases abdominal pain and reduces the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
“Mint” is a general term that can mean peppermint, spearmint, or wintergreen. In Celtic folk magic, each of these herbs is used for a different purpose. Peppermint increases psychic powers and helps with purification and healing. It also is considered a sleep aid. Spearmint also is used for healing and aids in obtaining love. It, like peppermint, can provide a good night’s rest as it is said to provide protection while you sleep. Wintergreen relieves anxiety and banishes fear. The resulting calmness might help you sleep.
Yarrow: This herb, like comfrey, was part of any good medieval first aid kit. It has less controversy surrounding it though. It has several possible health benefits. Yarrow has an anti-inflammatory effect and may help with digestive issues. It has anti-seizure properties which may help those suffering from epilepsy. It seems to reduce depression and anxiety. Some studies indicate it improves muscle tone and reduces memory loss and, as such, may alleviate symptoms from Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Yarrow has an anti-coagulant effect so people taking blood thinners should not take yarrow.
In folk practice, yarrow is carried in amulets or sachets to banish negativity and increase courage. It is said to increase psychic ability and has been used to aid in divination. Yarrow is particularly associated with love charms and marriage. It was used in handfasting rituals to keep the new couple’s love freshly burning for seven years. Apparently, the couple was on its own after that. Perhaps this is the source of the seven-year itch?
Other herbs that are excellent choices for an indoor winter garden are chamomile, lavender, rosemary, sage, and thyme. These five herbs have a number of health benefits and some fun folklore about their magical properties. There is so much to say that I’ve already written two posts about them. Read about lavender and chamomile by clicking here. Find out about mint’s famous cousins—sage, rosemary, and thyme—by clicking here.
Please note that this article is meant for entertainment and is not to be taken as medical or lifestyle advice.
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