“Ye are gods, and, behold ye shall die, and the waves be upon you at last. In the darkness of time, in the deeps of years, in the changes of things, Ye shall sleep as a slain man sleeps, and the world shall forget you for kings.”

I have been exploring the herbs used by tribal spirit handlers of Mesolithic Britain for decades. And after studying the herbs associated with death I couldn’t help but conclude that these people definitely didn’t want ghosts around. It did occur to me however that something of a deal might have been struck between the living and the dead; that if the dead would keep their distance they could return once a year on our beloved Samhain.

There are enough herbs used in ritual to invoke ancestral spirits that they are worthy of a separate excursion but here I will list 32 used to deal with death. In no way am I suggesting that these are the only ones but are those limited to my narrow field of study. It is probable that there are many others now lost to us.

From the Neolithic forward other groups came to Britain and brought species from their homelands. The Beaker Folk, the Celts, Romans, Vikings, Saxons, countless others carried in their favorites. And these introduced species became a common part of the landscape, history, and culture. My research however is limited to the indigenous species of the British Isles, so some if not many of your favorites will be found missing here.

Alnus (Alder) was used to guide the departed through the underworld. That spirit would return in winter to warm itself next to the practitioner’s fire.

Apium (Celery) was braided into funeral wreathes that were worn or carried to commemorate the deceased’s achievements.

A decoction was rendered from Eryngium (Sea Holly) and used after funerals to insure that the spirit of illness didn’t stick around. Practitioners used an infusion of the root to prevent carrying the spirit of death to his or her next patient.

Petroselinum (Parsley) was planted on graves to honor and remember. It was also braided up into wreathes and garlands for similar reasons. Parsley was never eaten as it was regarded as sacred to the world of oblivion and death. Used as divination tool parsley could foretell impending death. Even so it was considered a symbol of rebirth.

An emetic rendered from Solanum (Bittersweet) was used to relieve loneliness caused by a death in the family.

Rosa (Rose) branches were used to sweep out the burial site before a body was interred. Branches were boiled for protection against spirits and ghosts, and used as a wash for spells. Those same branches were placed around the house to prevent the spirit of the deceased from returning. They were also broken and left in the house after the body had been removed to insure that the spirit of illness didn’t linger. Sprigs of Rosa were carried to keep the ghost away from the funeral.

Thymus (Wild Thyme) was sprinkled on sacrificial animals to make them more pleasing to the spirits. It should be remembered that in ancient times animals also accompanied the deceased to their next life.

Clematis (Traveler’s Joy) leaves were used to remove ghost projectiles. The practitioner would remove it through a cut made in the skin or with a sucking tube. Boiled Clematis leaves were then applied to the skin where the projectile had been removed. When a person fainted after coming in contact with a ghost they were revived with a smudge of Clematis stems.

Cypripedium (Lady’s Slipper) was gathered into prayer bundles to induce supernatural and ancestral dreams.

Vinca (Joy of the Ground) was made into garlands for departed children.

Juniperus (Juniper) boughs were used to fumigate a home and its contents after a death had taken place. It was believed that this was more effective when the Juniperus was combined with Rosa. Both were boiled into a tea, which was then splashed around the house outside, and the paths the decease might use in order to prevent their return. Juniperus boughs were placed in graves to insure that the deceased’s spirit wouldn’t return to frighten the living. A small bowl of coals on which Juniperus was sprinkled was left in the room where someone had died and during the funeral. A decoction was used as a bath to purify the burial party. Juniperus fences often surrounded gravesites or boughs placed on the graves to prevent the deceased’s spirit from returning. An infusion of Juniperus was taken for four days after a death.

A mother took a decoction of Populus bark (Poplar, Aspen, Cottonwood) after childbirth if someone close to her had died.

An infusion of Prunella (Selfheal) was taken to remedy the sickness caused by grieving.

An emetic of Sambucus (Elder) root bark was taken to purify after funerals and by practitioners after the death of a patient. Sambucus was buried with the deceased to protect them on their journey. As most everyone knows, ancestral spirits make their homes in elder trees. Sambucus is the symbol of grief, sorrow, and death.

A decoction of Acer (Maple) wood and bark, like Populus, was used to remedy the sickness of grieving.

Muscari (Bluebell) was regarded as the flower of grief and mourning. It was believed to grow where blood had been shed.

Tanacetum (Tansy) was associated with death and ancestral medicine as well as longevity and immortality. It is an herb most often strewn.

Verbena (Vervain) is associated with mourning the loss of a loved one.

Artemisia absinthium (Wormwood) leaves were worn as protection for those handling a dead body. Mourners to clear their minds from crying also wore them. Leaves were rubbed on handlers’ bodies to keep a ghost away, and worn to prevent dreaming of the deceased. Artemisia was used to purify a deceased practitioner’s tools before they were passed on to another person. Artemisia was burned at tombs and gravesites to invoke ancestral spirits and encourage them to rise and speak.

Betula (Birch) was placed in the grave with the deceased for purification, new beginnings and rebirth.

Gnaphalium (Cudweed) smudge was used to dispel the spirit of a deceased person.

A decoction of Lobelia (bladderpod) was used to remedy the sickness caused by grieving. It was strewn at graves as a gesture of love.

An emetic of Salix (Willow) bark was used to purify after death and funerals. Willow stems were thrust into the forearms of singers at funerals to balance appropriately the joy felt for the departing spirit with sympathy for the bereaved.

An infusion Vaccinium (Blueberry) leaves was added to food after a recent to death to bring calm and comfort.

Pinus (Pine) pitch was smeared on burial parties for protection. It was also applied to bring comfort to the foreheads and under the eyes of those who were mourning. Pinus branches were burned in the hearth and pitch was burned for the family after a funeral for the same reasons. A sprig decoction was brewed up for anyone who suffered from the memories of the departed.

Angelica (Wild Parsnip) was rendered into an infusion to remove ghosts from homes. The root was used to purify after funerals.

Cirsium (Spear Thistle) flowers were scattered on graves to keep animals away and as protection for the departed.

Geum (Avens) leaves were eaten for protection before visiting a dying person.

Lythrum (Loosestrife) was rendered into a decoction for sickness believed caused by a dead person.

Urtica (Nettle) was rubbed on ones body to purify after handling a corpse.

Origanum (Oregano) was placed on graves to insure peace for the departed.


Leave a Reply


* Copy This Password *

* Type Or Paste Password Here *

Current day month ye@r *

There aren't any comments at the moment, be the first to start the discussion!