What are the witches brewing this Halloween?
Double, Double Toil and Trouble, the Fire burns and the cauldron bubbles. Inside the witch’s brew there are countless ingredients: eyes of some little reptile, bat wings and more plants than you can count. It’s All Hallows Eve and that means it’s time for a little lesson on some terribly interesting plants that you may have not ever known existed outside of folklore and the silver screen. Do tread carefully; some of these gems are deadly toxic while others are as harmless as kitchen spices.
As to how I know such things? I’ve been studying and growing poisonous and oddity plants for the better part of five years for their historical significance and to help educate others. These plants are as much history as any battle and in some cases were stronger than any sword.
Let’s start with one of my favorites: Mandrake. Mandrake is a deadly poisonous plant that is grown throughout much of Europe and even grows wild in certain regions of North America. Made famous by the Harry Potter series this plant is no child’s play. In the 14th century it was considered a death sentence to pull this plant from the ground, because rumor had it that when it was pulled it would scream, and whoever heard it would die. So how did apothecaries and alchemists pluck this plant? They used dogs. A dog would be tied to the small plant and something it liked would be placed in front of it, sure enough when the dog moved the plant, root and all, would come out. This plant is known to cause very bad hallucinations and also cause cardiac arrest.
Another plant that has been used for close to five hundred years in defense of witches: Vervain. Also called Verbena, is a flowering, wood like plant that is part of a family with over 250 variations. This fabled plant has been heralded for its magical properties to suppress a witch’s power, and it was common to hang the dried flowers over one’s door to ward evil away. Vervain has also been mentioned in a myriad of texts ranging from the bible to even modern teen vampire novels. This plant is still being used today as an herbalist remedy in the form of tablets, essential oil, and tea for its suggested healing properties.
This last plant shares the same family as the potato: Belladonna Nightshade. This plant with black berries, black leaves, and even black stem is widely regarded as one of the deadliest plants on earth. Every part of this plant is deadly poisonous, and even brushing against this plant can risk blisters. Exposure to the oil of this plant can result in heart failure, an inability to breathe, or even death. However, this sinister plant can also be used as medicine. In Ancient Egypt this plant was used to clear up bloodshot eyes, however most victims went blind after one use. Today this plant is being used in natural red eye relief after the deadly toxins have been removed.
There are countless other plants that could be added to a cauldron, and most you have in your home: Catnip, nutmeg, cinnamon, lavender, rosemary, peppermint, sage, and garlic just to name a few. Actually almost any time you cook you could say you’re playing with your own cauldron and you just never knew it.
About the author:
Kelsey has been growing and studying medieval apothecary and alchemy practices for almost five years as a hobby. Her garden has grown from two small plants to almost two dozen different plants, some of which actively try to kill her.