This essay will seem a bit loosely constructed due in part to the limit of material. Even so it does weave together not so much within the construct of 21st century thinking but within the holistic thinking of far more ancient people. Although not directly related I will provide anecdotal material on the species mention or references to other essays where more species information can be found.

Specific plants behave in specific ways, like clockwork, throughout the growing season. These determinations enhanced the knowledge of medicine women and men who had devoted their lives to the daily observation of the sun, moon, planets, and stars. Sacred cycles are complex and often unique to what is being observed. The journeys of plants have nothing to do with the journeys of stars and planets nor does the moon’s journey have anything cyclically in common with the sun. Reliably however in virtually all cases plants cycle with the sun and provided observable signs that a season is progressing. Ancient people knew that the times for planting, hunting, harvesting and ritual was ascertained by not only observational astronomy but by plant indicators as well.

I found that the blooms of pot marigold (Calendula) and those of celandine (Chelidonium) marked the return of swallows. I well imagine that their return was well timed with the return of mosquitoes and no doubt people were by then longing for the swallows to come home. Anecdotally, when calendula is scattered under ones bed it is believed to stimulate prophetic dreams. It comforts and strengthens the heart with regard to issues of unrequited love. A potion can be formulated from calendula, thyme, hazelnut, water and oil that supposedly provides the ability to see and interact with Earth spirits. Celandine heals psychic wounds and provides a shield of protection. Its spirit is invoked to lend clarity to dreams and visions.

When blackthorn or cherry fruit ripens (Prunus) and meadow buttercups bloom (Ranunculus acris) people once knew that the summer salmon run was commencing. Material on blackthorn (Prunus) can be found in the Flutes and Drums of Antiquity essay. Meadow buttercup not only enhances ones clarity regarding objectives but also acts as a lure to bring those objectives to the one seeking them. This feature makes it powerful ritual medicine in matters of vision seeking, clarity of pressing issues, and confidence in decision making.

The Rubus family as a whole is some of the biggest medicine around. It includes raspberry, blackberry, dewberry, and cloudberry (often called salmonberry). Rubus purifies dancers and is worn by practitioners during healing rituals. It is good luck medicine for hunters and their dogs, affording them inordinate protection. Rubus that has been harvested during the waxing moon is believed highly protective and a charm against illness. It has a restorative spirit that enhances energy and hopefulness. When there is frost on the flowers it is a sign that the fruit set will be heavy and the harvest abundant. The peeling of birch bark (Betula) and elm bark (Ulmus) mark raspberry-picking time in June and July. Both these species are explored in the Flutes and Drums essay. The blooms of mayweed (matricaria) indicate that it is time to pick cloudberry. An excellent ritual aromatic contains mayweed flowers, water mint (Mentha aquatica), pine, and sweetgrass (either Catabrosa or Glyceria). Mayweed enhances meditation, promotes love in all kinds of ways, and is a powerful exorcismal that repels malevolent spirits and removes spells while creating a field of protection around an individual and his or her property.

The first leaves to sprout in early spring are currant leaves (Ribes). Their appearance indicates that it is time to plow. The catkins of poplar (Populus) and the blooms of blackthorn (Prunus) indicate its time to plant. More on both these species can be found in the Flutes and Drums essay. Further material on currant (Ribes) can be found in the Keepers of Body Paint piece.

When goldenrod is in flower (solidago) it tells hunters that the grain is just about ripe and it is time to return to their villages to help bring in the harvest. Goldenrod is extremely diverse. It dispels paralyzing weakness and restores strength. Goldenrod is revivifying and believed an excellent exorcismal against the spirit of illness. In some hunter-gatherer societies it was particularly appropriate in rituals for children that were reluctant to speak or laugh. Other ritual and medicinal applications included losses of self-expression, enthusiasm for life, energy or direction especially when they figured into non-productive rest and circumstances that could lead to injury.

It should be remembered that even among hunter-gatherer groups where hunting was essential it didn’t take place year round unless they were absolutely desperate. We are by design omnivores like bears not carnivores like big cats. It is a misconception to think humans were particularly big meat eaters. From all that I have studied I speculate that 85% vegetarian was probably a minimal estimate. Responsible hunters never took game during calving season and avoided taking female game animals almost completely. They were extremely dependent on fishing for much of the year and were experts at preserving meat and fish for winter. Once berries, fruits and grain ripened by the end of summer and into fall hunter-gatherers knew that the game was fat and ready to hunted. That’s a fairly narrow window.

With so many rituals tied to the sun’s journey, the solar annum, I thought I would include some plants associated with annual rituals. As a footnote I will mention that feasts are not rituals, they are celebrations that occur after a ritual is completed. Feasts are a way of dispensing the medicine achieved among the people and sending those blessings into the universe. Rituals could take as long as eighteen months to complete, a real test of devotion. Three or four day rituals were most often grueling events of total self-sacrifice for the benefit of an entire tribe that often included fasting, dancing, and flesh offerings. Quite a few plants can be referenced for a variety of reasons as tied to such events. This medicine is a bit challenging to organize suitably to our way of comprehending. I hope I can do a respectable job.

I thought first about preparation. Shelter for the observing population was often constructed from some variety of poplar (Populus). This could include cottonwood, aspen or ‘poplar’. Meanwhile dancers often purified themselves with mint (Mentha), juniper (Juniperus), or elder (Sambucus). They might tie up prayer sticks as well as ritual and sacrificial objects with sprigs of wormwood (Artemisia) and other favored species. I found a rather touching reference to women giving dancers gifts of maple (Acer) to the ceremonial fire so that the dancers would remain strong.

Anecdotally, mint is so diverse and widely used I would be hardpressed to fully cover it in the context of this essay. But here are a few entries. When combined with vervain (Verbena officinalis) and meadowsweet (Filipendula vulgaris) it forms a divinatory holy water called Lustral Water. Mint combined with rose (Rosa) affords and supports productive rest, protection while sleeping, and prophetic dream states. Mint is the quintessential medicine for clarity, ancestral memory, and mental power. It is handled in casting spells for prosperity, travel, abundance, healing, and sanctification. Mint can be worn for protection and can further exorcise malevolent spirits from surrounding areas, possessions, altars and homes. Further information on the other species mentioned in the preceding paragraph can be found in the essays entitled The Flutes and Drums of Antiquity, The Spiritual Disposition of Tools, The Prayer of Transcendent Smoke.

Dancers often felt the need for protection when exertion and sacrifice made them vulnerable to opportunistic spirits. Ash bark (Fraxinus), referred to in The Spiritual Disposition of Tools, was burned to protect against the negative effects of spiritually impure individuals. Juniper, referred to in The Flutes and Drums of Antiquity, often carpeted ritual spaces to help dancers to remain sanctified. It was burned to insure that everyone remained blessed and protected during these arduous days of sacrifice.

Beech (Fagus) found in The Spiritual Disposition of Tools was burned as a means of nourishing hearts and minds while springing the gate to the deepest spiritual intent of a given ritual. Yet seemingly simple issues were not overlooked. For example, peppergrass (Lepidium) was used to treat sunburn. It is exceedingly purifying as well. It addresses matters of the heart, restores clarity, and enhances expression. Peppergrass has remarkable exorcismal properties with regard to parasitic spirits that steal an individual’s strength. So it would seem that peppergrass brought other blessings to dancers beyond relieving their sunburn.

The inordinate risk to fasting dancers wasn’t overlooked either. Willow (Salix), and reedmace (Typha) formed recuperative beds for dancers. Blackthorn was tied up in shade houses. These species brought the spirit of water to the ritual circle. Willow and elder were used to bolster the dancers’ endurance and stamina. When all else failed and a dancer succumbed to sun sickness, he or she was treated with willow, the Vaccinium family (cranberry, bilberry, cowberry, etc.) or bur marigold (Bidens).

More information concerning reedmace can be found in The Keepers of Body Paint. Willow is referenced in some detail in The Flutes and Drums essay. I think the Vaccinium family is highly under rated ceremonially. It is found in rituals for health and prosperity. The flowers are valued as smudge or steam by practitioners in exorcismal ceremonies to rid an individual of severe mental affliction. It guards against illness, breaks with spiritual sanctity, and an array of other things. Bur marigold (Bidens) is highly exorcismal as well against spirits that steal sacred songs and chip away at protective shields. It is particularly effective against malevolent spirits that hide in smoke, sunlight, and fog.

I noticed that male dancers paid particular attention to both grooming and making themselves attractive to women (really, I couldn’t make this stuff up). Long ago men actually shaved with the sharp edges of sedge (Carex). They used hot pine pitch to yank out whiskers (ouch!) and soothed their poor skin with juniper tea. I also spotted a reference to men trimming up their hair with smoldering pine twigs. Anecdotally, sedge was also regarded as exorcismal and often tied up into brooms where the act of sweeping was in fact an act of exorcising malevolent spirits from surroundings.

I found eight species specifically referenced as remedies (or perhaps conjurers of illusions) which enhanced men’s appeal. Columbine (Aquilegia) was one. It is commonly associated with courage, daring, and the power of persuasion. Columbine helps practitioners detect and exorcise malevolent spirits that compromise stamina, prosperity, and wellness.

Bittercress (Cardamine) as love medicine also was believed to help men in this department. It can be handled to keep love balanced and harmonious and is linked to abundance and security. It is a divinatory agent used by practitioners to discover malevolent causes when songs, personal expression or direction are stolen. Hemp agrimony (Eupatorium) is another. It is a formidable remedy and defense against sprits that shoot invisible projectiles or against those that invade homes. Hemp agrimony is quieting and strengthening. It bolsters clarity, ritual expression, and even respect. It is both good luck and love medicine.

Meadow rue (Thalictrum minus) is handled to reconcile quarreling. It is love medicine that can be rubbed on men’s hands as a love charm and smoked to enhance ones success in this endeavor. The same properties that bolster endurance for the task at hand can also be laced into bedding and clothing as well as strewn or carried in medicine pouches. Sundew (Drosera) is not only believed a powerful love medicine it fortifies personal shields and spiritual connections needed to create sacred songs.

Mountain everlasting (Antennaria) is Deer Medicine and a guardian of male virility. Medicine people to revive dancers that had lost consciousness from exertion and fasting used its smudge.  The steam or smudge repels malevolent spirits including those that severely interfere with the clarity needed to understand dreams and visions. Wild parsnip (Angelica) is another medicine that helps men remain attractive during rituals that also has the power to exorcise malevolent spirits and divine solutions to dire issues. It replenishes the power in practitioners’ tools and I have no doubt it does the same thing for ritual dancers’ gear and ceremonial clothes. More information about Angelica can be found in The Keepers of Body Paint essay.

My last entry is thyme (Thymus), the sprigs of which were believed to make one irresistible when tucked into ones hair. I am sure that many of you are familiar with thyme’s connection to psychic ability, courage, strength, vigor, and spiritual energy. The same love medicine used by men helps heal old sorrows and old, lingering illnesses as well. Thyme can exorcise malevolent spirits and prevent their return in matters of nightmares, anxiety, sorrow, and shyness. These sprits tend to be parasitic by nature. In general it can be said of thyme that it restores peaceful effectiveness in ones life.

In conclusion I can’t emphasize enough ethnobotany’s connection to historic shamanic reality. Although practitioners are free to and must contribute creatively to our body of knowledge there is both comfort and affirmation found in the efforts of those who meticulously interview traditional medicine people. Daniel Moerman is an icon in this field and his works are extraordinary sources of information, to which I frequently refer and acknowledge. I also continually reference The Compendium for Spirit Handling published here as a blog. Although ethnobotany is a hardcore scientific field it must always be remembered that much of the information collected is considered lore and beyond any actual tangible proof. And keep in mind that the informants and their holistic way of perceiving the world don’t necessarily look for miraculous cures as much as they seek ‘good outcomes’.

Lastly I want to emphasize and reiterate that the species I have studied are by no means the only ones known for any given purpose. My research is limited to the Mesolithic tribal culture of the British Isles and the indigenous species with which those people had to work.

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  1. In the North it is said:
    When the Vulture returns
    The frost is dead