A Magical History of Herbs: Enchanted Names


“Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg and owlet’s wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble…”

William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act IV, Scene I

Names of herbs shift and change through time, culture, and circumstance.  While many modern herbalists use Latin binomials to organize and distinguish herbs regardless of how they are known in separate cultures, common and folk names for herbs are valuable, informative, and often quite inventive.

Adder’s Tongue by myriorama

Shakespeare may have been referencing many herbs for his Witches to brew in their chant about the cauldron.  “Eye of Newt” is a folk name for Mustard Seed Brassica nigra, while “Toe of Frog” may refer to a type of Buttercup.  “Tongue of Dog” is Houndstongue Cynoglossum officinale, a plant that has some toxic properties that mainly affect cattle and horses.  “Adder’s Fork” is a fern more commonly known as Adder’s Tongue Ophioglossum vulgatum and is useful for aiding the healing of wounds and bruises.

Elder from botanical.com

Sometimes when old grimoires and spells asked for blood they weren’t suggesting the actual blood of human or animal, but the sap of the Elder tree.  The sap of a plant is, in essence, its blood and would have been considered an appropriate ingredient in a charm or spell.  Elder was especially sacred as a tree whose powers included that of life, death, and the state of happiness for a household. (We have a tea blend with Elder  berries and flowers – Witch’s Delight!)

Paying attention to the folk and Latin names of plants gives us insight into their healing powers and the ways they can affect change in our lives.  Next time you come across an interesting ingredient in a rhyme or riddle meant for the cauldron pot or amulet above the door, take a moment to investigate the names given – the path of enchantment is full of wisdom!



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