Herbs have been surrounded by numerous myths and legends since time began. More often than not, an herb’s so-called healing powers came into being from the belief that its physical appearance pointed toward the plant’s significance. For instance, walnuts were once used to cure headaches simply because the shells resembled a skull, while the nut resembled a brain. As their leaves are hollow, which allow air to pass through; both garlic and onion became labeled for use as decongestants. Therefore, any plant with hollow qualities quickly became a remedy for respiratory ailments. Plants having yellow flowers or roots were considered cures for liver problems as the yellowish tint of jaundice is associated with the liver. If a plant resembled a heart, it was used for heart ailments. If a plant had succulence, it was used as a diuretic.
As outlandish as many seem to be, remedies and cures by use of herbs have long since been used. Some properties within a particular herb do, in fact, hold true when utilized for home remedies; nonetheless, you should always practice skepticism before trying out a ‘miracle cure’ and, of course, do your research. For example, most of us know that Aloe is commonly used to treat burns and it works; however, it was once thought to heal Scarlet Fever. Catnip is not just for cats; it is said to be good for relieving digestive ailments and menstrual cramps as well. Lavender was traditionally used to revive those who had fainted while Rosemary was said to prevent forgetfulness. Rosemary was also believed to heal those with the plague. Chives were thought to be an antidote for poison and remedy for bleeding while parsley was frequently worn in garlands to prevent drunkenness. Chervil was once commonly used as a cure for hiccoughs while Hazel wood was used to treat rheumatism. It was said that if a person placed Barley around a stone while visualizing pain and tossing it into a river or lake, then the pain would go away. Likewise, if someone suffered from unsolved problems, placing Bracken beneath his or her pillow prior to sleeping would supposedly allow the person to find a solution within a dream.
Of course, herbs have also been infamous for use in obtaining luck. For instance, luck was said to come to those carrying Bamboo. It was also said that by carving your name into a piece of bamboo and burying it in a secluded place, your wishes would come true. Money was said to come to anyone placing Irish moss beneath a doormat outside. The dew collected from upon Lady’s Mantle at dawn was also thought to bring a person good fortune. Interesting enough, many people kept certain herbs around their homes for luck. Aloe was said to bring good luck if hung over the home and catnip growing around the home would bring good luck as well. Some people simply wore herbs around their neck for luck, such as Thyme. There are, however, cases of bad luck associated with particular herbs. For example, Harebell was thought to be linked to the devil and was supposedly used by witches to turn themselves into hares. If a Bay tree was seen withering away, it was thought to be an omen of disaster.
Many people desperate for love tried using herbs in an effort to attain their desired partners. Wearing Honeysuckle would promote dreams of true love. Applying Marjoram before bedtime would spawn dreams of a future spouse. Keeping water-soaked Maidenhair in the bedroom was thought to grant a person both love and beauty. Sporting Thyme was said to attract a suitor and placing Borage within a man’s drink would get him to propose. Savory is said to regulate a person’s sex drive; the summer variety is thought to increase sex drive, while the winter variety will decrease it.
Seeds from the Bracken fern were gathered in midsummer and said to make those wearing it invisible. Clover was believed to give one clairvoyant powers. Lily of the Valley was used to counter spells. Dandelions were said to tell a person how many years were left to live by blowing on the seedpod and counting the number of seeds that were left. By placing Ivy around the base of a yellow candle on Tuesday was said to allow you to see the person responsible for working against you. Writing a question on a Fig leaf was said to give an answer by way of drying; if the leaf dried slowly, the answer was yes while if the leaf dried quickly, the answer was no. Throughout history, herbs have been said to not only possess magical qualities but can guard against evil spirits as well. Burning herbs as incense, such as Clove, Frankincense, and Myrrh, purifies and drives out negative energy. St. John’s Wort was considered one of the most potent herbs for driving away evil. Angelica sprinkled in all four corners or outside perimeter of the house warded off evil. Growing a Cactus and facing it in the direction of your door would guard against unwanted intruders. Fennel that was stuffed into keyholes kept out bad spirits. Rue, Mullein, Nettle, and Yew were also thought to protect people from evil.
The use of herbs did not stop here. There were many miscellaneous uses for them. Lemon Balm was believed to renew youth. Basil was the passport to paradise. Saffron was said to bring happiness. Sage was thought to ensure long life or immortality by eating some every day in May. Holy grass was used in purification ceremonies of women after having given birth. Hyssop, when tied in bunches, was used as a brush to sprinkle blood onto door post and lintels in order to cleanse the home against leprosy. Grecian Bay was used to crown the victors of Olympic games as a sign of triumph. Tansy was used by ancients for embalming. Savory was ingested by satyrs to give them sexual stamina. Borage was once commonly used to fight off melancholy.
There are many legends connected to herbs. According to legend, when supplied with licorice and mare’s milk cheese, warriors could go up to twelve days without drink. One legend surrounding Angelica states that the herb was introduced to humans by an angel as a cure for the Black plague. Another says it was revealed by the archangel Raphael as a gift with magical powers. It was said that the white flowers of Rosemary miraculously turned blue after Mary spread her cloak upon the bush sheltering baby Jesus. The herb Elecampane, inula helenium, was said to have gotten its name from Helen on the fields of Troy where she carried a bouquet of the herb in her arms. Another suggests that the plant sprang up from the tears of Helen while on the fields of Troy.
According to Greek legend, Pluto raped a nympth named Minthe while his jealous wife trampled her afterward. As revenge, Pluto and his wife are left forgotten while Mentha (Mint) is well known. St. John’s Wort is said to have given Knights an unfair advantage over their opponents if the herb was carried by them. Plantain was said to come about by that of a young maiden who died while sitting by the road waiting for her lover to return. The herb grew from her side and spread along roadsides in search of him. Legend has it that Satan stepped out of the garden of Eden, and upon touching the ground with his left foot, garlic sprang up while the onion appeared at his right foot. Another interesting legend is that of the Elder. The Elder-tree mother, Hylde-Moer, lived within the tree and kept watch over it. Should the tree be cut, without permission, and used for furniture, she would haunt the owner. Likewise, if a child was put in a cradle made from Elder, she would come and pull at the child’s legs without mercy.