Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

Goldenrod Folklore and Magical Properties

Ah, goldenrod. To some, it’s an essential part of their herbal medicine cabinet. To others, it’s a source of misery. I love seeing the bright yellow flowers on their drooping, swaying stems, but I’m also not one of the people suffering from goldenrod allergies. (Allergies to plenty of other pollens, yes. Goldenrod specifically, no.)

Interestingly, many people blame goldenrod for late summer and autumn allergies. Without an allergy test, there’s really no way to tell — ragweed blooms at the same time, and it’s a very common allergen. Most pollen allergies are triggered by wind-pollinated plants, but goldenrod is pollinated by insects. Ragweed, however, is not.

(This is also why raw honey and bee pollen aren’t actually great ways to desensitize yourself to pollen. The pollen that makes it into the hive isn’t likely to be the same kind that’s making you sneeze.)

Goldenrod is a bit of a misnomer. It isn’t a single plant, it comprises 120 different members of the aster family. It’s scientific name is Solidago, via the Medieval Latin “soldago,” via a somewhat circuitous rout from the Latin “solidus.” It’s a name that references strength and solidity, the ability to make something (or someone) whole again. With goldenrod’s traditional medical and magical properties, it’s a very apt name.

Goldenrod Magical Uses and Folklore

Various legends tie goldenrod to the presence of wealth. One source said that, wherever goldenrod grows, gold is buried. (But, were that the case, I can guarantee that DC wouldn’t be nearly as economically stratified as it is. Just saying.) Another says that to find goldenrod growing near your home portends a spell of good luck.

Goldenrod is also tied to water. Folklore holds that, wherever it grows, a spring must be nearby. The plants were also used as effective, if temperamental, divining rods — they were said to only work in the hands of the right person.

One legend tells the story of how goldenrod received its bright yellow flowers. An old woman, traveling through the forest, was growing weary. She asked all of the trees around her for a walking stick, but they refused. She found a small stick on the ground, and asked it for help instead. The stick agreed, and she used it as a walking stick until she was out of the woods. As soon as she stepped beyond the tree line, she shed her disguise — revealing herself as a powerful fairy. In return for the stick’s help, she sprinkled it with gold.

Another story speaks of two little girls who went to an old witch for help. One girl, tall and blonde haired, asked the witch to grant her wish. She wanted to be admired by everyone. Her friend, short and blue-eyed, wished that she and the blonde girl would never have to grow apart. The girls were never seen again after that day, but it’s said that, wherever they walked, there sprung up the yellow goldenrod and the blue aster.

This isn’t folklore so much, but the tires on the Model T Ford that Henry Ford gave Thomas Edison were made of goldenrod. The plant naturally contains a decent amount of rubber — through experimentation, Thomas Edison managed to produce a taller goldenrod that was up to 12% rubber. He partnered with Henry Ford, George Washington Carver, and Henry Firestone to put these tires into mass production, but synthetic rubber arrived on the scene before goldenrod tires ever made it out of the experimental stage.

Goldenrod is one of those plants that seems to be an herbal pharmacy in itself. In America, indigenous people used the leaves externally for skin conditions, and internally for ulcers and lung or kidney problems. After colonists dumped tea into the Boston Harbor in protest, they used goldenrod as a tea substitute. One of Solidago virgaurea’s names is “woundwort,” and it was used in Europe to stop bleeding from wounds. Studies in Germany have found that it’s an effective treatment for kidney stones. It contains compounds that encourage urination, reduce inflammation, soothe pain, and kill pathogens, and the whole plant is edible (though easily confused with toxic Haplopappus heterophyllus, so be careful).

Of course, don’t take my word for this — if you have a medical condition, seek treatment from an expert..

Using Goldenrod

Keep your eyes peeled, since the appearance of goldenrod near your house means good luck is on the way. Of course, if you want to influence fate a little bit, you can plant goldenrod or keep a vase full of it in your home. If you practice feng shui, put it in the money areas of your home. If you don’t, put it near your front door to draw wealth in.

If money’s not your thing, you can also use it to bring in love. Wear or carry it, and you’ll soon cross paths with your true love. Add the dried leaves and flowers to sachets, herbal mixes, incense, or potions for love-drawing.

To dowse with goldenrod, hold a stem in your hand, and watch the flowers. They will nod in the direction of what you seek.

You can turn goldenrod into a useful yellow dye, paint, or magical ink:

  1. Collect the young flowers when they’re about to open, and their concentration of pigment is at its highest.
  2. Let the flowers dry completely.
  3. Simmer in a cup of hot water with a teaspoon of alum for twenty minutes. (Alternatively, grind the flowers fine with a mortar and pestle, add just enough boiling water and alum to cover, and sit in a sunny spot for a full day.)
  4. Filter out the flowers, and add about a half teaspoon of gum arabic if you’d like a thicker consistency. This part is mostly helpful for ink, since it makes it flow and adhere to the paper more nicely.
  5. If you don’t anticipate using all of your dye/ink/paint right away, add two or three drops of essential oil to inhibit mold. Thyme or oregano work well for this.
  6. Bottle, label, and store in a cool, dark place.

Goldenrod is a beautiful, magical plant with a bad rap. It’s showier than ragweed, so its bright yellow flowers are often erroneously blamed for symptoms actually caused by wind-pollinated plants. It’s abundant this time of year, so, if you find yourself in need of a little love or money magic, consider making an offering to the goldenrod plant and harvesting no more than 25% of its leaves and blooms. Even better, sow a local variety in your garden so you can enjoy its presence and provide a valuable food source to butterflies, moths, bees, and other pollinators at the same time!

Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

Fern Folklore and Magical Properties

Ferns!

Fern fronds in sunlight.

FERNS!

Curling fern fronds.

I love ferns. If you want to feel like you live in some kind of magical woodland glade, get some ferns, a pack of Triloka Enchanted Forest, and cue up a couple tracks from The Moon and the Nightspirit. For real.

Ferns have a reputation for being fussy, and it’s not entirely undeserved. They’re not like most plants — their reproduction is weird, their lighting and humidity needs are weird, and some of them will die if you ever have the audacity to subject them to tap water, dirt, or a sidelong glance.

Still. Ferns.

One of my favorites is a little $4.99 “assorted fern” that makes frequent appearances on my Instagram. I put it the window, watered it often, and, to my surprise, it turned out to be a very robust staghorn fern. This was doubly astonishing to me, because a) I originally thought it was some kind of bird’s nest fern, and b) I once bought a staghorn on purpose, followed all of the care instructions to the letter, and it died within two weeks.

Ferns are weird. They’re also very magical plants that occupy a significant role in the folklore and esoteric practices of cultures everywhere they grow.

Fern Magical Uses and Folklore

In Slavic folklore, ferns produce a magic blossom once a year, on the eve of the Summer Solstice. Whoever is lucky enough to find a fern flower will receive good luck, prosperity, and the ability to understand the speech of animals. Baltic, Swedish, and Estonian culture has a similar tradition — in every case, the flower is believed to be protected by evil spirits. In some folklore, the Devil was said to appear and snatch the flowers for himself.

Unfortunately for the possessors of a fern flower, the story goes that any wealth granted to them would vanish if they ever shared it. To keep the riches of the fern flower, they would have to become cold-hearted, stingy, and isolated. In one tale, a boy who obtains the magical flower ends up losing all of his friends and loved ones because of it — eventually wishing for death to release him.

Ferns don’t actually flower, though. They have no need to. They are indescribably ancient plants, old enough to predate seeds. They do produce “fertile fronds,” which can appear as vaguely flowerlike clusters. These stories may refer to fertile fronds, a different flowering species that resembles a true fern, or the difficulty of attaining wealth and fortune.

Fern seeds were believed to be invisible, and only able to be found on Midsummer Eve. Possessing these seeds could make one invisible, help them understand birdsong, tell them where to find buried treasure, or grant them the strength of forty men.

In one Russian folktale, a farmer who lost his cattle was instantly granted knowledge of their whereabouts when a fern seed fell in his shoe.

In England, it was believed that you could catch the elusive fern seed by placing a stack of twelve pewter plates in a field of ferns. When the seeds appeared, they would fall through the first eleven plates and come to rest on the last.

Nicolas Culpepper claimed that, if a horse were to step on moonwort, it would cause them to throw a shoe. This could be because of its purported effect on iron — stuffing it into a lock was said to cause it to open.

In Hawai’ian folklore, the deity Kamapuaʻa occasionally took the form of a fern. The earth goddess Haumea also had a species of tree fern as a kino lau (body form).

Ferns are tied to weather magic. Burning them was said to cause a storm, as could pulling one up by the roots. On the Devonshire Moors, it’s still customary to burn growing bracken to bring rain.

Ferns and mosses growing along a small waterfall.
I can see where the rain thing comes from, tbh.

Tying fern fronds to the ears of horses was said to protect them from the Devil.

In modern magic, ferns are used for rain-making, money spells, and protection. Adding the fronds to spells or arrangements of fresh flowers helps boost the magical properties of whatever they are placed with.

Last, but certainly not least, there’s the delightfully weird tale of the vegetable lamb of Tartary.

Using Ferns

There are so many species of fern with so many different medical uses, I can’t possibly cover them all here. While not all ferns (or all life stages of fern) are medicinal or edible, different fern species have been used for everything from stomach aches to snakebite. From what I have read and observed, they are most often used for skin afflictions — spores are said to reduce pain from stinging nettle, and ointments or pastes made of various fern species are used to tread cuts, bruises, and skin ulcers. In Scottish lore, ferns were mixed with egg and used as an ointment to restore sight or reduce redness in bloodshot eyes!
(Please don’t do this just because you read it here, though. I don’t want anybody getting some kind of raw egg eye infection.)

For protection, plant or place potted ferns near windows and doors. (Just make sure they have the right levels of sunlight and humidity!) Llewellyn has a spell using ferns to banish evil, which may piggyback on its use for rain-bringing. Rain is cleansing, ferns are protective, so these two properties could drive evil out of a place.

If you’re lucky enough to come across fern spores (those black dots along the backs of fronds), carry them when you want to go unnoticed.

In hoodoo, ferns seem to be largely for protective magic. Among other uses, sprinkling crushed fern leaves along windowsills is said to keep intruders away, and adding it to a floor wash with black snake root clears away jinxes.

That said, some spells may refer to specific ferns using secret names. Maiden’s hair is the maidenhair fern, for example, while horse’s tongue is the hart’s tongue.

Magically, your best bet is one of two things: purchasing fern fronds, or growing some of the easier-care varieties in pots. While older sources cited specific plants in their folklore, the modern herbals I consulted for this post didn’t — they just said “ferns.” In my opinion, I don’t think it matters much what type of fern you choose to work with. When it comes to spending my time tending a growing plant versus tracking down the exact species used in a spell, I’ve found I’m pretty much always better off using a plant I’ve developed a relationship with (or, at the very least, one that’s abundant where I live). They have an affinity for water, which explains their use in rain magic. They all have spores, not seeds, which explains their use in invisibility (and, to a lesser extent, protection) spells. Find a fern that will grow happily for you, and see what magical secrets it holds.

Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

Arnica Folklore and Magical Properties

What’s black and blue and red all over?

Me. I am.

I wasn’t aware of it until recently, but one of the side effects of sertraline is bruising. This was never really a major issue, but, with the recent increase in leg days, I’ve been noticing that my lower extremities look like hobbits have been beating me with cricket bats in my sleep. This probably isn’t helped by the fact that I’ve had knee surgery, and any amount of physical activity makes my legs look like I fell down the stairs even under the best of circumstances. I’m planning to talk to my doctor about this, but I’m not in a bunch of pain, and my medication is working out well enough that I don’t want to change it if I don’t absolutely, positively need to. C’est la guerre.

For now, it’s lots of iron- and vitamin K-rich vegetables, and arnica. At the moment, I’m pretty much only using arnica to help my shins look less corpse-y, but that’s not all it can do.

It could also keep corn demons away from my knees.

Arnica Magical Uses and Folklore

Arnica is one of the best-known and most-used herbal remedies in much of Europe. The American variety was no slouch, either — both indigenous people and pioneers used it in abundance. (I don’t really want to go into all of its historical medical uses here, because there are a ton of them and not all of them were great ideas. It’s the kind of plant where it could either lower your fever, or make you bleed internally a bunch.)

The word “arnica” is derived from the Greek “arni,” meaning “lamb.” This could be in reference to any number of the plant’s parts — it’s got fuzzy sepals, leaves, and looks almost dandelion-like when it goes to seed.

Two of its common names are “wolf’s-” and “leopard’s bane.” I haven’t been able to find any reason for this — these are also names for aconite, which is far, far more baneful than arnica. I mean, the two don’t even look alike.

In Norway, arnica was strewn in fields during Midsummer. This was to protect crops from a creature called Bilwis. In Germanic areas, Bilwis is identified as a kind of Feldgeister (field spirit) or Korndämonen (corn demon). In the Prose Edda, this creature was half of a brother-sister pair — Hjúki and Bil — that followed the Moon across the sky. There isn’t much written about Hjúki and Bil outside of the Prose Edda, but they are theorized to represent the craters visible from Earth, which are said to resemble a pair of children carrying a bucket on a pole. Over time, Bil’s image was distorted from a minor Norse deity to a malevolent spirit that cuts down corn. Bilwis has no set form, and its appearance varies across all of the folklore in which it appears.

Sprinkling arnica around your property is said to protect your home and bring fertility to your garden. This probably stems from its use to thwart corn demons, as, over time, its folk use expanded from keeping your crops from being cut down by spirits, to general protection and plant fertility.

Planting arnica around an area is said to keep a spirit penned there. This only works as long as the arnica lives, however — once it dies back, the magical boundary dies with it.

As a bright yellow Midsummer plant, it’s associated with the Sun and the element of Fire.

Some sources claim that arnica was burned as an incense, particularly in weather magic. This seems largely used to drive away violent storms, and may also be tied to its general “protective” aspect.

Using Arnica

Not gonna lie, I’ve gotten pretty fond of dabbing it on myself. But I digress.

Arnica contains a sesquiterpene lactone called Helenalin, which is said to help reduce inflammation and thereby soothe away bruising when it’s applied soon after an injury. Though it’s very healing when used topically, it is toxic when used internally and can cause sensitization over time. If you’re using arnica medically, it’s best to use it topically, over unbroken skin, for short periods of time.

That said, some people do use it internally. It’s even been used as a flavoring in foods and beverages. (I wouldn’t recommend doing so unless you’re under the guidance of an herbalist, though.) If you’re pregnant or on blood thinners, avoid it — it can stimulate contractions and interfere with blood clotting.

Harvest and the flowers when they’re at their best, around Midsummer. Scatter fresh flowers around an area you wish to protect, or brew dried ones into a tea and sprinkle the liquid. You could theoretically include dried flowers in protective sachets, jars, or other container magic, but the herb’s primary historical uses seem to largely depend on strewing, scattering, or planting arnica to create a boundary.

To turn back storms, burn arnica and say, “Arnica bright, arnica alight. Thunderstorm, turn and take flight.”

Arnica has been treated as a one-herb first aid kit, credited with any number of medical marvels. While it’s certainly good at what it does, the herb does have a tendency to cause problems if it’s used in high doses and for long periods of time. If you’ve got corn demons to thwart, thunderstorms to get rid of, or spirits you need to babysit, arnica can’t be beat.

Neodruidry, Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

Jewelweed Folklore and Magical Properties

Jewelweed, Impatiens capensis, is one of the most beautiful parts of watery places out here. Though the plant has bright yellow-orange flowers, they aren’t what give it its name — rather, it’s the curious property of the leaves. Since it grows near water, and excess moisture has a nasty tendency to support the growth of all kinds of pathogens, the leaves repel it. If you take one and drop water on it, it will bead up and glisten like jewels. If you take a leaf and hold it underwater, it looks like it’s covered in pavé-set diamonds.

They have a very clever reproductive strategy, too. Their showy flowers encourage sexual reproduction by attracting hummingbirds and other pollinators. They also have much smaller, more discreet flowers, which don’t open up the way their other blossoms do — they self-pollinate. This gives jewelweed the ability to produce two different sets of seeds: one that costs more energy and has a wider gene pool, and one that’s much cheaper, but lacks genetic diversity.

The seed capsules are pretty cool, too. One of the plant’s other common names is touch-me-not, because of the way it disperses its seeds. Plant jewelweed once, and it’ll keep self-seeding and coming back. After pollination, the seed capsules hang out and wait for something — anything — to touch them. Brush up against one, and the valves on the pods will quickly coil back and fire the seeds in a tiny explosion. (This all sounds perfectly normal, until you picture what it would look like if every pregnant person was also basically a baby confetti cannon.)

Jewelweed Magical Uses and Folklore

These plants are well known to people indigenous to where they grow. Their virtues are largely medicinal, so I didn’t have very much luck finding explicitly-stated magical properties or associations. Peer-reviewed research supports its use for itchy skin conditions, including tinea (the fungus responsible for ringworm, athlete’s foot, and jock itch).

Jewelweed contains compounds that act as antagonists to the urushiol found in poison ivy. Most people are sensitive to urushiol, and end up with a telltale itchy, blistered rash from it. Applying jewelweed sap immediately after coming in contact with poison ivy can help stop the rash in its tracks.

I’m reminded of a rhyming couplet I read once, though I fail to remember where:

Jewelweed, starve ivy’s greed

Touch-me-not, stay ivy’s rot

(I have no idea. If you know the origin, let me know!)

The elemental and planetary associations for jewelweed are pretty much what you’d expect: water and Venus.

The flowers are a bright yellow-orange. Following the elemental correspondences, color attributes, and medicinal uses, I would use jewelweed in workings to bring joy and prevent or alleviate suffering. Water is the element of the emotions. Orange is for joy and positivity. It can keep you from spending a long, miserable time dealing with poison ivy blisters. The leaves repel what they don’t want on them. It makes sense to me!

Orange is also a color of creativity, and I did find a source who talks about using jewelweed in a flower essence to bring the flow of awen into your life. This also makes sense when you think of the plant’s seeds — whether it has pollinators to help it out or not, jewelweed will create new life!

Using Jewelweed

As mentioned above, jewelweed makes a nice flower essence. It also appears to be provisionally edible, but you need to cook it thoroughly to denature its toxic compounds.

Most uses of jewelweed involve either applying the crushed, raw plant to the skin, or adding it to salves, washes, or witch hazel.

Magically, I would dry some of the flowers and add them to sachets or witch’s bottles for creativity, joy, and the prevention of sorrow. Use the seeds in spells to increase the flow of inspiration. Since the plant depends on its flowers for genetic diversity, avoid taking more than a third of them. (Unless you’re in the Pacific Northwest, where it’s considered invasive. In that case, go to town.)

Jewelweed is a really unique plant. Sew it once, and it’ll keep coming back. It has an admirable tenacity, and can be a real friend to anyone who’s ever touched poison ivy on the trail. While traditional magical lore seems to be a bit thin on the ground, it has enough special qualities that it’s easy to extrapolate. Work with jewelweed, and see what it tells you.