In the Witches’ Garden
By Maria Price
These are the familiar bits of the witches’ poem in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Mysterious witches prophesied Macbeth’s ascent to the throne of Scotland, while chanting this haunting rhyme while brewing a potion in their cauldron. Halloween brings us many sizes of witches, small and large.
Most witch doctors were healers. They were called white witches, fairy doctors or cunning folk in old England. White witches would have all the herbs, flowers and roots used to make medicines for healing and those that practiced black witchcraft would use the same herbs plus many poisonous plants for their evil doings.
Yellow tansy, gold calendula for healing, bitter wormwood, smoke from the fireplace and aromatic spices all blend to tell us of coming winter and a time to rest. The colors of fall remind us of the protective plants used against the evil charms of witchcraft, for these hot colors represent the fires which any careful witch would avoid.
The use of herbs as charms to do away with evil is as old as humankind. The herb rue was used for the expulsion of witches and driving out infection and evil. In earlier days, rue sprigs were hung in all doors and windows so that no spirits dared to enter.
The elder tree has always been connected with magic. Elder was used to drive off evil spirits. If an elder tree bled when it was cut, it meant that a witch lived in it.
Hawthorn, a beautiful tree that produces red berries in the fall was considered a highly magical tree. It was protection from witches, spirits and thunderstorms.
Eye of newt and tongue of dog? Not really. Witches had to keep their recipes for powerful spells secret, so they used symbolic names were their ingredients. “Eye” referred to plants resembling an eye such as aster, daisy or chamomile. “Tongue of dog” refers to the herb hound’s tongue. “Blood” referred to the sap of an elder tree. “Crown for a king” meant wormwood. “Dew of the sea” was rosemary, “elfwort” was the plant elecampane. “Little dragon” referred to tarragon and “maiden’s ruin” was code for southernwood. “Sleepwort” meant lettuce, “witch’s aspirin” was white willow bark and “witch bells” referred to foxglove.
As our days get shorter and the night air becomes crisp with moonlit nights, we head towards our hectic harvest season to gather what we can before the heavy frosts claim our rewards. Bring the wonderful scents of autumn into the home by drying sage, thyme and rosemary for future feasts.