I don’t know about you, but my summers are especially crazy. Between gardening, harvesting, trips to the mountains, holidays and social time (even us hermits have to go into the public now and again), I’m always taxed for time! Because of that, I needed a break from the Monthly Wort, although I can’t just drop it altogether. That would be crazy. For that reason, I decided to write a summary of the last FOUR MONTHS of herbs that we covered in The Veil Blog! Every 4-6 months, I will go back and give a brief rundown of the sections, which include the herb’s 1) History, 2) Medicinal Use, 3) Magical Use and 4) How to Grow and Harvest. Each herb will also include links back to the original blog, in case you want to dive all the way in. Have fun exploring!
The Last 4 Herbs of the Monthly Wort
Known as Achillea Millefolium, coined after the mythical Achilles from Greek tales, yarrow has been found in caves dating back 60,000 years ago! It was introduced to North America by early colonists and the American Shakers were reported to have used it for a numerous remedies. It goes by many names, including knight’s milfoil, nosebleed flower, old man’s mustard, thousand leaf, wolf’s tail and woundwort.
It is a very hardy perennial that can grow just about anywhere, which is why you will see it high up here in the dry Rockies as well as low down in the valleys, even on the sides of the road. It can grow up to 3 feet, with fern like leaves and small clusters of white flowers (although other color varieties have been genetically modified and grown). It is very bitter in flavor.
Its main use throughout history is as an herb of healing. Soldiers in the civil war used it the same way soldiers in ancient history did, and in the same way many of us modern herbalist do: To staunch bleeding! Due to its chemical makeup, it can stop bleeding almost instantly (for small wounds, mind you).
It’s also a wonderful addition to food. The leaves are used in soups, meat dishes and stir frys. When accompanied with seafood, it helps mask the fishy flavors. In the middle ages, it was used to flavor beer before the use of hops, often part of an herbal mixture called gruit.
Yarrow is a big hitter in the world of herbalism. It was part of the U.S. Pharmacopeia from 1836-1882 and hasn’t dropped in popularity even after it was out! Almost all of the plant can be used therapeutically, particularly its aerial parts, and it can be used in a variety of forms, including tinctures, teas, poultices, compresses, oils and more. Scientists have found over 100 helpful compounds in yarrow. Its most popular uses are:
- Wounds and abrasions: Being a styptic (a substance capable of stopping bleeding when applied to a wound), it is favored in natural first aid kits or on the go. It also has anti-inflammatory and antiseptic oils, as well as astringent tannins and resins, combined with silica to repair damaged tissue.
- Flu and Fevers: With its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects, it helps reduce pain, relaxes the circulation, helps remove excess mucous from the system, fights nose and throat infections and is also a mild sedative.
- Menstruation and Postpartum: When it comes to period cramps or discomfort, much of it is caused by inflammation. With yarrow being anti-inflammatory and an antispasmodic, it helps reduce the cramping sensations in your uterus. It also helps with blood circulation, which can also fight sore muscles and bloating. For postpartum mothers struggling with hemorrhoids, yarrow can be added to a sitz bath to help reduce the problem as well as give a comforting relief.
- Digestive Support: The compound azulene in yarrow can improve digestion, as it relaxes the internal muscles and stomach spasms. It also normalizes hydrochloric acid secretions and heals gastric mucus alterations. Got painful gas? Drink some yarrow tea.
- Other: It can promote hair growth and is found in a variety of homemade hair rinses. It encourages hair strength and helps prevent baldness.
Side Effects and Warnings: In some cases, yarrow may have a cumulative medicinal effect on the system. Always ask your doctor or medical advisor before taking yarrow for prolonged periods of time. Also, because it is a uterine stimulant, pregnant or lactating women should avoid using it internally. People with allergies to ragweed should avoid taking yarrow, as it may stir an allergic reaction.
Yarrow is toxic to dogs, cats and horses.
For magic and energy users, yarrow is particularly protective, preventing negative influences from outside attacks. For those that practice passing through the veil, yarrow can be just the stimulant you need to keep your feet grounded while your mind travels, acting as a psychic protector. I Ching practitioners also used it for divination. Historically, yarrow was hung over a child’s crib to protect them from being stolen by demons and replaced with a changeling.
These days, its widely believed to be a love charm. Nicholas Culpeper noted it as an herb of the planet Venus, which we know to be a planet of love. In folklore, a maiden could place a sprig of yarrow beneath her pillow and recite a love spell to bring a man to her. It also assured fidelity for folk, who tucked it into their wedding bouquets, which promised them seven years of successful marriage.
Strange, though, that yarrow should be held in such esteem for both lovers and warriors. Love versus hate, life versus death, these extremes find a vivifying balance with this herb. It almost tends to suggest it has a place in metamorphosis, or shape shifting. Achilles himself had shape-shifting parents. The leaves of yarrow tend to look like that of a wolf, perhaps correlating to the idea of werewolves. For further explanation and reading on why yarrow seemed more Mercury derived than Venus, visit The Monthly Wort: Yarrow (Part 3).
Growing and Harvesting:
Yarrow is hardy and easily grown, even for a beginner! I have uprooted it from a mountaintop and brought it down to plant in my garden, and it has adapted wondrously! While I find the wild plants to be vastly more durable and drought tolerant, even seed grown yarrow can thrive, especially in USDA hardiness zones 3-9.
Seed Growing: They need to be surface sown to avoid rot, as they are delicate seeds. Gently pressing them into a jiffy pellet or into soil (general potting soil words just fine) should do the trick, followed by bottom watering so the seeds don’t float away. They germinate in 5-10 days, sprouting a rosette (a cluster of leaves) the first season before growing stalks in the following year.
Once the plant is established, the rhizomes beneath the surface start to spread. This means it can easily take over a space if left unchecked. If you don’t want to put in the effort of maintaining its growth, it will do just as well in a large pot.
Harvesting: While the whole plant can be harvested, the most desired parts are the aerial bits (pretty much anything above ground). Harvest after the flowers have fully bloomed and are still vibrant looking. Cut the stalks off at the base, leaving plenty of stem and leaves to take with you. Bind the yarrow into small bunches no thicker than .75”, and hang them to dry inside of a paper bag (this helps reduce the dust as well as creates a dry tent around the herbs). Keep them out of the sun – I prefer using my closet or pantry – over a tray to catch any falling particles. Depending on where you live, dry times may vary. They should be crisp but not brown. Check for any signs of mold or pantry moths. Store in airtight jar out of the direct sunlight.
Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is often referred to as nature’s candy due to its intense sugary taste. It originated from Eurasia and is now known worldwide, most commonly in China and southern Europe. The word licorice (spelled liquorice in most of Europe) is Greek for “sweet root”. It also goes by the monikers the Grandfather of All Herbs and the Great Detoxifier.
The common misconception with this herb is that it tastes like black licorice. While there may have been licorice root used to sweeten that black candy (yuck), the flavor that is associated with the latter is actually that of anise or fennel. Licorice root's flavor is much more mild and delicious. In fact, it has helped folks stomach even the nastiest of medicines (or cover up the flavor of poison in more unfortunate cases) and has such an earthy sweetness that it was largely used in flavoring tobaccos. Personally, I put it in my sicky time tea, as its medicinal benefits and absolutely scrumptious taste are the perfect combination on crappy days.
It is a perennial legume that grows up to 40 inches in height with pinnate leaves all along the stems. The flowers are purple to whitish-blue. As pretty as it is up top, the harvested part of the plant is below ground, where the roots can grow up to several feet.
Licorice root has an impressive resume in the more natural medicines of today, specifically in traditional Chinese medicine (Glycyrrhiza uralensis), where it is the single most used herb. Over 5,000 Chinese herbal formulas use licorice root to sweeten teas and harmonize contrasting herbs. In a modern survey, licorice ranked as the 10th most important herb in Western medicinal herbal practice (Glycyrrhiza glabra).
To top it off, its sweetness hurt your mouth! Despite being 30-50 times as strong in flavor as sucrose, it won’t rot your teeth when chewing or sucking on.
- Colds and Flus: Best for Throat Coat teas because it has demulcent, which sooths inflamed or irritated tissues. Helps with coughs (anti-tussive), bringing up phlegm, antiviral and anti-allergenic. Also helps with acid reflux. Contains saponins, which are anti-inflammatory chemicals that act like steroids.
- Auto-Immune Disorders: It is thought to be beneficial in the treatment of conditions that affect the stomach, kidneys, lungs and spleen. This includes lupus, scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis and animal dander allergies, according ot TMC. Also acts as an anti-hepatotoxic. Benefits gastric ulcers as a spasmolytic (checking spasms).
- Menstruation: Extracts of licorice show estrogenic activity, promoting the production of female sex hormones, which can help bring on and regulate monthly cycles, particularly in the follicular phase. Very beneficial for women with PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome).
- Fatigue: With its effect on estrogen metabolism and stimulation to the immune system, it treats CFS and Fibromyalgia by increasing cortisol activity and reducing stress levels.
Side Effects and Warnings: People who have high blood pressure or are sensitive to estrogen should use this herb with caution. Even sucking on a piece or taking a small dose can raise your blood pressure. Pregnant women should always consult a doctor before ingesting this herb for the same reason. Long term usage has been shown to cause potassium depletion. Its toxicities are correlated to cortisoldegration, oedema, hypokalaemia, weight gain or loss and hypertension due to the glycyrrhizin and enoxolone. People with previously existing heart conditions or kidney problems may be more susceptible to licorice root poisoning.
Licorice root is another complex herb. It is normally associated with the planet Mercury, which rules in the 6th house over health, particularly in the lung and energizing movement of both thought and breathing, which correlates to the root’s medicinal value. Just the same, it contains the planetary metal for Jupiter and has its qualities, such as its strength in protection. The Egyptians would use it to help the dead pass on to the afterlife by adorning in the tombs.
Its greatest ability is binding magic and heightening the power of spellwork. While this can be a good thing, it can get especially tricky when considering intention. When it comes to conjuring, it is a very assertive plant and Hoodoo practitioners have utilized it for commanding, mind-altering and control spells for generations. This can be anywhere from giving a mental push on a possible employer during an interview, winning your way through a spousal agreement or just changing someone’s mind on a smaller scale. Either way, your results will vary based on your follow-through. Keeping in mind how long it takes the root to grow before it can be harvested (usually about three years), it might be a good idea to consider your intentions for three full days before using the root, which not only respects the plant itself but also provides that extra bit of consideration when using this kind of magic.
Then, with control comes the abuse of it. One of the most common spells used throughout time are love spells. Licorice root can definitely be involved. Just as nibbling on the root can raise a person’s blood pressure, we can spiritually make the connection between licorice root and passion, particularly in the lustful sense. It can be added to love sachets, chewed for sexual potency or sprinkled on the footprints of a lover to keep them from wandering. Even simply drinking the tea can act as a stimulant! To keep or attract, that’s licorice’s act.
Growing and Harvesting:
Licorice root is an herbaceous perennial legume that has several specific care needs as far as temperature sensitivity, monitored watering schedules and nutrient specifications. For Glycyrrhiza glabra, it grows best in zones 7-10, and zone 6 if mulched heavily. Glycyrrhiza uralensis prefers zones 9-10.
From Seeds: Soak the seeds for 24 hours in lukewarm, distilled water and then sow them into a jiffy pellet or fresh starting mix at about ½ inch. Keep evenly moist until germination occurs within 2 weeks. They prefer temperatures of around 68° F (20° C) during this time. Transplant when roots start to show at bottom or they are 2 inches high. Mix soil so that is 1 part sand, 1 part compost and 1 part loam. It needs to be airy enough for the root system to move around. It prefers neutral to slightly alkaline pH levels. It prefers a sunny to semi-shady location to grow properly that gets afternoon shade. Give it regular and abundant watering, so long as its soil has been prepared properly and can drain well. Growing in pots can make it easier for those who don’t live in ideal climates to be able to bring the pot indoors when it gets cold, as these plants are not frost resistant. Choose a large pot (at least 12 inches and preferably terracotta).
It won’t need fertilizer unless the soil is poor, which can be amended with compost or mulch around the base of the plant.
Harvesting: Licorice root takes quite a while to harvest, about 2-3 years or before the roots become woody, less sweet and less potent. Harvest the plant in the fall, using a sharp blade to extract the horizontal roots, preserving the main roots if you plan on replanting the herb.
When drying the herb, follow the rule of thumb: if it’s a flower or a leaf, dry it in the shade; if it’s a root, dry it in the sun. Roots tend to mold, so keeping them in a dark, damp place is not ideal. If using a dehydrator, rinse the roots under cool water and pat dry, then line them up on your tray. Dry them at 95-115° F (or 125° for humid places) for a few hours. Check to see if they are dried like a dead twig, before they are entirely brittle, and then store them in a sealed container out of direct sunlight.
Blackthorn or Prunus spinosa is a flowering species of rose, native to Europe, western Asia, northwest Africa, New Zealand and eastern North America. Its berries have been found in archaeological sites from the Mesolithic and Iron Age periods, suggesting a long history in human existence. This is a compact and extremely thorny shrub, given to its name, that blooms white, musk-scented flowers followed by the formation of purple-blue fruits known as slows. Picked in autumn after the first frost, the fruits are used in a variety of things, from jams and jellies to dyes to sloe gin.
This plant is mostly used in the UK for hedging, as it is dense, sharp and the perfect cattle guard. The only critters that can get through it are birds and small mammals (like mice and squirrels), making it the perfect divider between properties. This use started when parliament passed the Enclosure Acts, turning common land into individual properties.
Another famous use of blackthorn, due to its extremely durable and hard wood, is for the Irish fighting stick called a “bata” but more famously known as a shillelagh. Through curing and finishing, the blackthorn cudgel was turned into an incredible and very handy self-defense tool.
Despite the fact that this blog has a large focus on herbalism, there is something different about Blackthorn in the case of herbal wellness. Throughout my research, I have found contradicting information on whether or not it is safe to use in medicine. From some more natural sources, it is said that the flowers, bark and berries can be employed for health benefits, in the form of infusions for anti-inflammatory, anti-diuretic and laxative uses. A study at the University of Lodz in Poland noted that the flowers have a flavonoid glycoside quercetin and kaempferol, both of which have anti-inflammatory properties. The berries and bark contain tannins that can reduce swelling as well, not to mention make a very bitter tonic, which implies that they would also make a good astringent. This eludes to aiding with digestive issues, herpes, eczema, allergies, colds, weak hearts and kidney stones.
Now, don’t stop reading there. Contrary to everything above, the FDA reports more from a level of concern when it comes to the consumption of blackthorn. With absolute certainty, blackthorn should NOT be ingested by women who are pregnant or breast-feeding due to the variably poisonous chemicals that can cause birth defects. Just the same, children should not take it either, as they are more sensitive to its effects. While large doses may not hurt the regular adult in small amounts, most parts of the plant contain hydrogen cyanide, which can be very toxic. The tannins can also have damaging effects in large doses, irritating intestinal mucosa and causing vomiting and ulcers. The seeds of blackthorn contain hydrocyanic acid, which makes the poisonous to consume. As always, use at your own risk. While I do believe that most natural remedies trump the side effects you get from pharmaceutical drugs, you have to remember that nature isn’t a soft and tender blanket to tuck carelessly away under. Nature can be dangerous and deadly if not taken seriously. The mutual benefits between yourself and the plants you choose to use in your life should always come with an equally mutual respect for the plant’s makeup.
Similar to its contradicting use in medicine, blackthorn is a dichotomy in the magical realm as well, torn between purpose and intention. Much like the way these thorny brambles protect the animals living in them (or faeries), it can protect a magic user during astro projection or in a physical sense. However, it has also been associated with death, wounding, curses and warfare. In Europe, it is depicted as an ill omen. A hard winter was referred to as a blackthorn winter and many are superstitious enough to never allow branches of it to enter the home. In certainty, blackthorn deals in the realm of fate, and no matter what your intention or exposure to it is, its magic cannot be circumvented.
The Irish Celts knew blackthorn as Draighean. It was commonly believed that faeries lived in Blackthorn (as well as its sibling tree, Hawthorn) and the berries should only be gathered on Samhain and Beltain, when the fae are away from their home and celebrating. In the ancient ogam alphabet, it is known as Straif, a chieftain tree with a very ominous reputation.It is speculated that the word “strife” was derived from this ogam, which ties into its lore of being associated with conflict and death. It’s often represented by deities such as Morrigan, who was a powerful woman warrior, and Cailleach, who was a death crone. Cailleach carried a blackthorn staff that she would strike the ground with to summon winter. In the many legends blackthorn is mentioned in, there are usually themes of human sacrifice. Then, there is its association with the pagan holiday Samhain. During this time, the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead thins. Crossovers happen, entities lurk in the shadows. Those who celebrate sometimes find themselves “jumping the hedge” in order to visit their loved ones, and it is no pass of phrase that blackthorn is one of the most common hedges in areas that practice these traditions.
To Christians of old, blackthorn was associated (surprise surprise) with witches. They believed that the devil would use a thorn to prick the finger of his followers, leaving one of his infamous “witch marks”. It was also said that these witches would use blackthorn stangs in curse magic or for stabbing poppets. When made into “black rods”, people of the dark ages assumed they would be used for destroying crops, ruining breeding animals and even making men’s penises disappear!
With all the ways to interpret Blackthorn’s purpose in your life or the life of your ancestors, I leave it up to you. At the very least, Blackthorn is significant in very human aspects and ones that many don’t often like to think about because they can often be painful or abrasive. But, like the transition from summer to winter, as the sloes sweeten and ripen, it is important to also recognize the shadowy aspects of ourselves.
Growing and Harvesting:
Not only is blackthorn a beautiful tree with an amazing floral display, but caring for it is exceptionally easy once it’s established. As a deciduous shrub that can grow to twelve feet, with rough, scaly, black bark and blooms musky smelling white flowers in the spring. Ideally, you will want to plant it in the fall to boost root development before winter settles in. It prefers sunbathed locations and its tastes in soil can be rather rich, albeit well-draining. It will not do well in soils with lots of clay or with little nutrients, and may require a shrub fertilizer for the first 2-3 years. Water regularly in the beginning, particularly in dry climates. It grows best in USDA zones 4-8.
Growers Beware: Blackthorn can be a very invasive species if left unkempt. To keep tamed, wait until fall, after the sloes have dropped, to cut it back every 2-3 years. Suckers grow from its base throughout year and would need to be removed if preventing further growth is desired.
From Seeds: To break dormancy in Blackthorn seeds, you will want to use a 50/50 ratio of peat-free compost and horticultural sand. The rule of thumb is two or three handfuls of the mixture to one handful of seeds. A pot is recommended to start your tree off, and you will want to line the bottom of the pot with stones, adding sand coverage next. Then, fill the rest with seed/soil mixture. The last layer on this dirt cake is another 2-3 centimeters of – you guessed it – sand.
Give the seeds four weeks of warmth, around 68° F. You can put the pots in loosely closed plastic bags to create a better greenhouse effect (or put them in a greenhouse), but make sure to water them every few days or when the soil starts to feel dry. You don’t want them drying out! Following the warm period, the seeds can go outside in their uncovered pots in a place that is protected from wildlife. If nothing sprouts that spring, that’s usually an indicator that they are dormant and will have to wait until the next season to sprout. Meanwhile, place them in a shady place outside until the following spring.
If you have successfully germinated your seeds, congratulations! You will only need 10% germination to get those bad boys sowed. On a seedbed, try to get about 5mm between seeds, pressing them firmly into the soil without having to bury them, then cover with about 5-10mm of grit. They should produce from there.
Growing From Established Plant: Blackthorn can also be grown from the suckers it produces, which you can find at garden centers or online. They should be planted in the fall and the new bushes should be weeded and mulched in spring to help establish them. As noted, be sure to water them for the first 1-2 seasons while they get all snug in the ground.
Harvesting Sloes: Known as sloes, they are quite astringent and bitter if not harvested at the correct time. They sweeten with frost, much in the way rose hips do. Waiting until the first or second frost has passed is the best time to harvest the sloes, usually about the end of September and on. They will be soft and have slightly wilted skin, and that is when you know they are ready for picking! But you might have to keep an eye on those trees, as the sloes are favored by birds that will eat them before you know it!
As far as storing the sloes, they will keep a while if dried in a dehydrator or by the sun, but they will go bad in the refrigerator – keep them sealed in the freezer until you want to cook with them.
Blackthorn (also known as Crataegus, hawberry, may-tree, quickthorn, thornapple) is a shrub kin to the Rasaceae family. From the Anglo-Saxon term haguthorn, it literally translates to “a fence with thorns”, which is obviously descriptive. In Irish, Hawthorn is known as Seach Gheal, meaning “bright thorn briar”. In ogam, it is one of the tree letters known as Úath (modernly Huath and pronounced “ooh-ah”), which is the 6th symbol. According to ancient Irish law, Brehon Law, hawthorn was known as a Peasant Tree.
The haws (aka fruit) of hawthorn are edible. Picked at the end of the season, following the first few frosts, they can be used in pies, jellies, wines and more. They have been described tasting like overly-ripened apples. The Chinese hawthorn (C. pinnatifida) are more tart and have a similarity in flavor to crab apples. They are used in a variety of foods in Asia, including sweet and sour sauce. The leaves are also edible and can be picked while tender and tossed into salads, even sautéed among other greens. European cultures consider the leaves, berries and flower buds to be called “bread and butter” because they were eaten commonly during times of mass famine.
Apart from its flavors, the wood has is so dense and rot resistant that it makes perfect fencing and tool handles.
They are native to temperate regions in the Northern Hemisphere of Europe, Asia and North America. Although, hawthorns are difficult to identify taxonomically due to its amazing ability to adapt to any nature, as it can change using natural hybridization. Often, hawthorn hybrids are used as ornamental trees and for landscaping along city avenues. More importantly, and much like blackthorn, hawthorn is used as a hedging plant. It’s perfect for keeping outsiders out and insiders in. This tree is so determined to grow that there is a hawthorn tree that is said to have survived from the 3rd century in France! It has also been found in fossils dating back to the Cretaceous period.
Much like blackthorn, this section will be less about how hawthorn can benefit you medicinally and more about whether or not it even can. There isn’t a whole lot of foundation as far as the safe use of hawthorn in herbal medicine. It is POSSIBLY SAFE for adults, although little research has been done in the long term usage. While it is known as one of the oldest medicinal plants, noted as being good for the heart by Greek herbalist Dioscorides somewhere in the 1st century, and the Commission E branch of the German government endorsed hawthorn as a viable herbal treatment, there are different laws and restrictions based on whichever country you are in. The American FDA does not consider it a viable drug for treatment.
Herbalists suggested that hawthorn is used mostly for diseases of the hearth and blood vessels (in other words, it can help dilate coronary arteries, can lower blood pressure, etc.), and has diuretic properties. Some of the other issues it is said to relieve are chest pain, congestive heart failure, atherosclerosis, arrhythmia, irregular heartbeat and high cholesterol. Its acceptance by natural wellness communities is probably from the bioflavonoids, proanthrocyanidins and other antioxidants that are found in the plant. The ability it purportedly has at inhibiting angiotensin-converting enzymes (ACE) is believed to improve circulation in the arms and legs by reducing the artery resistance, much like what it does to the heart. Herbal Supplement Resource notes more active ingredients: Hawthorn contains around 1 [to] 2 [percent] flavonoids, oligomeric proanthocyanidins (1-3%), saponins, phenolic acids (chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid), 2-(2-Phenylethyl) chromone derivatives (in the flowers, leaves and buds), amine (phenethylamine, metoksyfenetylamin, dopamine, acetylcholine and tyramine) and triterpenes based on ursolic acid and oleanolic acid.
On the other side, we look at the negative connotations with using hawothorn. For some, it can cause stomach upset/nausea, fatigue, sweating, headaches/dizziness, nosebleeds, agitation, heart palpitations and insomnia, just to name a few. An overdose can cause cardiac arrhythmia and low blood pressure. For pregnant and breast feeding women, there is very little research to prove hawthorn as a safe supplement, so please don’t take it. Those on heart disease or blood pressure medication can have extreme interactions with hawthorn. Pre- and post-surgery patients risk bleeding out. It also interacts with nitrates, digoxin and male sexual dysfunction drugs.
Hawthorn has been associated with the planet Mars by Nicolas Culpeper. Plants under Mars tend to be protective, revengeful, vigorous and full of vitality; plants with thorns and prickly surfaces, plants that enhance sex drive and potency, and are blood purifiers. Greeks regarded it as an emblem of hope. The branches were carried during wedding processions and the bride was said to wear a thorny crown of it. It was also written that the altar of Hymenaios, the god of love and weddings, was strewn with hawthorn branches.
Hawthorn has an incredible association with Beltaine, therein tied to goddesses like Aine and Brigid. Some could say that it has a place among fertility rites in ancient pagan tradition. The tree would be decorated on the 1st of May and wishes were asked of it. The dew on its leaves was also said to be sacred, and would give a person youth and crafting skills if bathed in it. This may be a connection specifically to Brigid, who was a goddess of many things including trades of craftsmanship.
In Gaelic mythos, hawthorn (seach gheal in Irish Gaelic, sgitheach in Scottish Gaelic) was heavily associated with faeries and the ‘otherworld’ – a different plane of existence after death. They believed that one could, on specific days, pass into that world without having to die and that the hawthorn tree was the entrance. This made it both revered and feared. Prehistoric burial sites excavated near cave dwellings found hawthorn bunches were tied to many of the bodies found. That being said, bringing a branch of it into the home was a sign of bad luck. During the Great Plague, this was taken very seriously, and historians have found rather scientific reasons to back it up: Apparently the flowers of the hawthorn have a very similar smell to rotting flesh due to a chemical called trimethylamine, which is one of the first compounds formed in decaying animal tissue. It is also found in hawthorn blossoms.
The superstition of hawthorn is not so ancient, however. Modern farmers will pile large rocks and boulders around the base of hawthorns to avoid accidentally cutting it while ploughing. An actual motorway was diverted from Limerick to Galway after being delayed for 10 years in order to avoid chopping down a hawthorn. Further, there is speculation that the famous De Lorean Motor Company failed for destroying a hawthorn in order to build its facility.
Growing and Harvesting:
Hawthorn is easily considered a small tree, growing anywhere between 15-50 feet tall. It has grey bark with shallow fissures and narrow ridges. The thorns are typically 1-3 centimeters long and grow from the branches or trunk of the tree. It is very adaptive to environments. Despite that its optimal soil is well-draining and loamy, it can thrive in a variety of soils. The only stipulation is that it isn’t near marshlands or areas with standing water.
Harvesting: The best time to harvest the haws is after a few frosts have happened, around the beginning of October for most places. They can be stored in buckets for a few weeks, as long as they are kept in cool and dry environments, like a root cellar. To extract the seeds, mash the berries, putting the pomace and seeds through a colander or sieve to separate. Clean and treat the seeds for germination.
Growing from Seeds: It can be tricky to grow from seeds and takes a lot of patience. You will want to plant it in horticultural sand, about a handful of seeds for every two or three handfuls of mixture. Put a layer of stones at the bottom, topped with enough sand to cover them entirely, and then add your compost/sand mixture on top. Add an additional layer of sand to that. The pot with the seeds must sit outside for 18 months in a shady spot, preferably near a brick wall. Water them if they dry out and keep them protected from animal interference. Check for signs of germination. You will only need about 10% germination success in order to sow them. Sow 2 seeds per quart sized container and cover with less than a half inch of grit. Firm and water. They will want to be moist at all times. Spray with organic fungicide to avoid mildew. Wait one or two more seasons before planting them in their permanent homes outdoors. Dig a hole large enough to fit the root ball and firm back the soil.
Growing from Established Plants: You can harvest the softwood stems of a hawthorn (around 5 inches) just below the knode and strip the lower half of leaves. Dip into powdered rooting hormone and plant in the same compost/sand mixture listen above. Mixture should be moist but not soggy. Cover container with clear plastic bag, using a rubber band to keep the edges down, which creates a greenhouse effect. Maintaining 60-70* F, the cuttings should be comfortable out of direct sunlight. If using a terracotta pot, wet the pot rather than overhead watering. In a few weeks, the cuttings should root.
In two or three months, they should be ready to plant. Carefully remove them from the pot and replant them into individual containers if the roots aren’t longer than ½ inch in length. You can use general potting mixture at this time, so long as it is well draining. Repeat the plastic bag routine with a few holes to allow for fresh air. This will help harden the plants off to a less humid environment.
Move them outdoors in spring. Mulch them during the winter with straw. After two seasons, they should be ready to be transplanted in spring. Continue to mulch until the hawthorn adjusts to its new environment.
There it is! Four months bundled into one post. Follow any of the links to see the full posts and get a more in-depth approach at these awesome pants.
Author’s Note: Always remember to practice safe plant identification principles when gathering or purchasing herbs. They have a lot of dangerous lookalikes! I usually follow the rule Dunno? No-no. Basically, if you aren’t 100% certain, then leave that plant alone! Also, ALWAY consult your doctor or health advisor when considering ingesting any of these plants.
See you guys in August, when I’ll be finishing up the Monthly Wort for stinging nettle. Happy Lunasagh!