Samhain and herbs
Samhain was once a time of year more bound by tradition than it is currently. Seen as the end of summer and the beginning of a new year all rolled into one it was a time for remembering and for trying to foretell what the future might bring. Honoring the dead was seen as an important duty due to the veil between worlds being at its thinnest on All Hallow’s Eve. The dead could at this time choose to come back and wreak havoc or celebrate with their families.
Harvest was complete by Samhain and if all had gone well there would be enough to carry them through the long, cold winter. An angry dead relative back to wreak havoc on your winter food stores could mean another dead member of the family. Herbs played a big part in Samhain as well, some as spells or charms, others as ways of negating hexes and most of them played double duty protecting the family health. Let us have a look at some of the more popular associations.
Apples were and still are, in use for so many things. They became associated with Samhain and witches due to the five-pointed star residing in the middle of an apple cut in half. Lore has it that if one peels an apple without breaking the peel and then throws the peel back over their own head it will land in the shape of the first letter of their beloved-to-be’s name. Apples did their job in warding, too. An old saying goes like this-
“An apple a day will make the doctor beg his bread”.
Apples are great for the digestion; the sugars in apples are near to pre-digested and make for quick energy for the body. Eating an apple nightly before bed is said to cure constipation. In other countries where the consumption of unsweetened cider is common, gallstones are an uncommon occurrence.
Mention garlic in conjunction with Samhain and, for most, the first thing that comes to mind is vampire repellant. Long ago, and by some even now, to ward off most things evil. Vampires, werewolves, malevolent spirits, spells, and the dreaded evil eye. When eaten, garlic wards off more physical things like parasites, colds, and ear infections. Perhaps our ancestors were not just warding away mysterious evils when they rubbed garlic on doorknobs and such, it would do wonders for cutting back on colds and flus transmitted that way.
Angelica for use in baths to remove curses or to purify. The name is said to have come from Archangel Michael after he appeared in a monk’s vision explaining how the herb should be used to protect against evil. Another way of using angelica’s protective powers is to sprinkle the leaves and flowers around the house. Angelica was not so much a ward for physical ailments as a line of defense should the wards fail. It was used in to treat typhus fever in a recipe that contained honey, lemons, and brandy.
The wonderful, happy pumpkin is another great herb of Halloween. The shell was for creating fearsome guardians to ward off evil spirits by carving out a terrifying face and lighting it from inside with a candle. But the seeds were used for a different kind of warding. Pumpkin seeds used in large amounts are great for repelling parasites.
Wonderful elderberry is has a long association with Samhain. Bits of the wood to carry for protection and prayer cloth tied to branches, while apples were left beneath as offerings. Elderberry is revered still for its uses in treating cold and flus. The German Commission E has substantiated the claims of treatment for cold and flu.
Including the herbs in your Samhain celebration
How to incorporate some of these herbs into your Samhain celebrations? Pumpkins are a shoe-in, and caramel apples bring that bit of tradition to the present. Toasty bits of garlic bread for keeping away evil spirits and filling the bellies of welcomed guests are always nice. Dried angelica set out in floral arrangements brings another traditional element out to play.
Passing out candy is thirsty/hungry work so I am going to need to provide some refreshments to go with the cheer. I am thinking some tasty mulled cider. Apple cider is just so tasty, adding a few herbs and spices take it from yum to WOW.
2 quarts apple cider
¼ cup sugar (optional)
5 whole cloves
4-5 cinnamon sticks
2 thin slices of ginger
Grind the allspice and cinnamon a bit with a mortar and pestle. (If using a coffee grinder, be sparing, you don’t want the herbs powdered) Put spices, cider, and optional sugar into a large pot. Cover and simmer on low for an hour. Strain the spices out and enjoy.
For munching we are going to have little mummy pizzas and toasted pumpkin seeds. The recipe for this is super easy.
1 loaf sliced French bread
1 container tomato sauce
1-2 cups shredded mozzarella
½ cup pepperoni bits
½ cup thyme
Toast bread slices lightly. Top toasted bread slices with sauce and thyme. Lay mozzarella shreds across bread like bandages. Add pepperoni bits for eyes and mouth. Pop in the oven on 300 for just long enough to get the cheese melty.