The Nine Herb Charm and the modern herbal garden…..

The Nine Herb Charm (from the Lacunga codex Anglo-Saxon texts compiled around the eleventh century) is a Anglo Saxon spell/charm in the form of a poem. Originally it would have been Pagan and contains probable references to Woden, but over time it evolved to include Christian references also. It contains nine sacred and special herbs intended to heal infections and treat poison. You can read the poem in full here….Nine Herbs Charm

IMG_0036The Nine Herbs Charm is a collection of folklore that provides instructions on how to use the herbs for the magic of healing. Some of the herbs have of course changed names, so here they are in their likely modern incarnations and what we know about their healing and magical properties…..

Mugwort (Artemesia vulgaris) Long known as a protective plant, Mugwort would be used to repel insects and fight fatigue. It does contain an oil that is toxic in large amounts. Mugwort would be collected on St Johns Eve and worn in a crown to protect the wearer against illness, misfortune and possession. I have never grown Mugwort, but it doesn’t sound like it would be much use to the modern herbalist?

Plantain (Plantago major) is the probable ‘Waybread’. Plantain does have naturally occurring antibiotic properties and would have been used to treat open wounds. Magically plantain is used to build strength and heal.

Plantain is still very common. A poultice of the leaves can be applied to wounds, stings, and sores in order to facilitate healing and prevent infection. Plantain has astringent properties, and a tea made from the leaves can be ingested to treat diarrhea and soothe raw internal membranes. Broadleaf plantain is also a highly nutritious wild edible, that is high in calcium and vitamins A, C, and K. The young, tender leaves can be eaten raw, and the older, stringier leaves can be boiled in stews and eaten. Plantain is still readily available in the wild, we have a whole bank of it down by the canal and most people will be very familiar with Plantain.

Watercress (Nasturtium officinale) I adore all plants in the nasturtium family, pretty, easy to grow and so good for you. Watercress is the likely ‘Stune’. Full of nutrients, Watercress is popular in stews, smoothies and tonics and magically is associated with keeping people safe when traveling over water. Associated with the water element it is also a visionary and psychic plant. Watercress is best grown in trays as they like to kept really moist. If that sounds like too much effort, I would advise to grow nasturtiums, they grow readily from seed and are really pretty. They flower for a very long time as well (if you don’t eat them all).

Nettle (Urtica dioca) Widely known to be infection fighting and immune system boosting, the Nettle was also considered to provide protection – probably because of its stinging leaves. To take the sting out of nettles, just boil the leaves for a minute or so. If you are going to harvest nettle, I prefer the younger, tender plants, they are slightly less bitter. Again you can harvest nettle readily, but do give it a good wash, and wear gloves and try to pick it above dog height! Nettle soup and nettle pesto is actually really tasty, I will try to remember to post my recipes for both.

IMG_0032Betony (Betonica officinalis) A real favourite of mine, and long known as a protective herb, wood betony is a common cure-all plant. It is known to soothe discord and dispel negativity and was also used for protection. I grow betony in the garden, as it is becoming less common as the edges of natural woodlands retreat where they like to make their homes. I don’t use it medicinally or in recipes, but I do use it in spells and charms, for protection and harmony. It is a very pretty, delicate pant and does bring a woodland feel to an urban garden, which I love.

Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) No magical, herbal garden would be complete without chamomile. Widely known to combat stress and encourage relaxation, chamomile is fairly easy to grow and harvest. The little flowers dry easily and can be stored in the dry for months and then simply add 2 teaspoons to hot water. In my experience chmomile works really well to ease menstrual cramps and headaches. Chamomile brings calm, rest and protection, with its sunny disposition providing an antidote to hexes and curses. Chamomile will grow easily from seed.

Crab Apple (Malus syvestris) Interesting is the reference of the crab apple as a protection against snakes. It is known the juices were used to treat eye infections and for beauty treatments. Apples are generally associated with love and fertility.

Chervil, Thyme and Fennel are all listed together, does this mean they work better together? I make a really nice clear vegetable soup that uses lots of chervil, a handful of thyme and a bulb of fennel and as a seasoning they are beautiful. Chervil is known as a mild diuretic with some anti-inflammatory properties as well as being a spiritual herb that will help you gain wisdom. Often associated with rituals of death or the dying. Chervil is easy to grow from seed, but is tender and best treated as an annual. It has a really delicate flavour, I really like chervil, and it is a pretty plant to grow.

IMG_0782Thyme, and I think this must be wild thyme, is a real common fragrant herb used for respiratory and digestion problems also associated with the dead and the fairies. In Greek herbals it was often used for purification. Thyme is easy to grow, and is hardy but does quickly become woody, I have had to replant thyme a few times despite regularly chopping. We were on holiday last year in Santorini and I had a donkey ride up to one of the archeological sites, it was up a fairly steep mountain, and the overwhelming memory of that journey was the abundance and the fragrance of the wild thyme, it was just magical, and I have never looked at thyme the same since. I feel a little sorry for it now in my damp, cold English garden, when it ready wants to be high up in the clear, warm fragrant air of a Mediterranean mountain.

Fennel, with its mild liquorice flavour is still used for digestion problems and to ease respiratory problems. Also a herb of protection and strength, as are most in the Nine Herbs Charm. I have never grown Fennel because I don’t really like its flavour, other than in the one clear vegetable soup that I make.

So I have a few things on my ‘to do’ list now, having revisited the Nine Herbs Charm;

  1. Try plantain leaf tea.
  2. Post recipe for the clear vegetable soup with 3 of the 9 herbs – although I may be able to sneak a few more in.
  3. Post the recipes I use for nettle pesto and nettle soup.
  4. Maybe move my thyme somewhere more rocky and sunny, so it doesn’t make me feel sad when I look at it.
  5. Grow more chamomile.

Just a note – I now there is contention around some of the modern equivalents to the herbs mentioned in the Nine Herbs Charm, but I have just gone with what seems to be the most referenced, and also (as with any herbal remedy) do seek medical advice before taking it, particularly if pregnant or breastfeeding etc 

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