Most of us have heard of the wild, crazy and often destructive-sounding ingredients of a witch’s brew. “Eye of Newt” and “Adder’s Tongue” jump to the front of my mind, and to be perfectly honest, I used to think these names were to be taken literally. That was before I started studying the old ways and learning about my inner witch. I don’t know about the old crones of the past, but this witch isn’t about to catch an adder (a venomous snake) and rip out its tongue for anybody! Not only do I put myself at risk, but hey… the adder needs his tongue.
Adder’s Tongue is a folk name for the Dogstooth Violet. But it gets worse.
Some recipes include boiling Alison. Now what did poor Alison do to warrant a trip to the boiling cauldron, you ask? Well, she is Alyssum – a flowering plant in the cabbage family. The list goes on, so I thought I’d put together a small reference list as I compile a complete pharmacology for the Book of Shadows page on Grandma Tilly’s Tinctures and Tonics website.
Here we go, in no particular order of favorites, mind you:
An Eagle – Wild Garlic
A Bone of Ibis – Buckthorn
Bear’s Foot – Lady’s Mantle
Ass’s Foot – Coltsfoot
Bird’s Eye – Germander
Bird’s Foot – Fenugreek
Blood of a Goose – Milk from the Mulberry Tree
Blood of a Snake – Hematite (this one is a gem stone – The olde ones already knew about gem essences!)
Hare’s Beard – Great Mullein
Lords and Ladies – Wake Robin (No actual members of the aristocracy were harmed in the making of potions.)
Lucky Hand – Male Fern
Naughty Man, Old Man, Old Uncle Henry – Mugwort
Pig’s Tail – Arnica
Scale of Dragon – Tarragon
Semen of Ares (ew!) – Clover (not so ew)
Summer’s Bride – Calendula
And the list goes on…
Even the old favorite – the toad – was actually an herb called Toadflax.
Witchcraft is the modern (yes, a few hundred years in the grand scheme of things is modern) name given to the old men and women who studied the herbs, minerals and techniques for healing. The information was passed down from generation to generation within some families and eventually religious hysteria came crashing down around them. The city folk, who had already morphed into a more consumerism based society, chose not to remember the old remedies and potions their own grandmothers may have used. Why should they? They can go to the doctor and he’ll fix them right up with a little bloodletting or a bottle of whiskey.
But the country folk – the Pagans – remembered. These bringers of down-to-earth honesty never forgot how to treat a wound or how to break a fever. And to remember which herb was which, they gave them interesting names based upon history or what the herb actually looked like. I imagine, during the burning times, when they wrote down their recipes, they hid the actual names along with their books, in the shadows, to protect themselves. If I’m right, this technique may have backfired for some. If the magistrate or the Sheriff found a recipe that included Snake Head and Tow of Frog (a Leech – which the doctor’s used all the time – and Buttercups), they were probably more freaked out than if they found a recipe with the actual names.
Still, the folk names for many of the herbs add, at least for me, a sense of pride and historical reference. The recipes are fun and effective, and no witch should ever take herself too seriously, right?
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, Dragon’s Blood is a plant grown in the Middle East. It is rare only because there is only one island upon which it grows naturally, and no dragon’s are harmed during the harvest.