Hecate’s Herbs – Part Two

daturaThornapple (Datura stramonium)

Thornapple, originally an American plant, has a whole host of nick names, including, but not limited to, Devil’s apple, Devil’s trumpet, Mad Apple, Sorcerer’s Herb, Witches Thimble and Yerba del Diablo (Herb of the Devil). Unsurprisingly, this is another plant with a long history as a hallucinogenic and narcotic, and was reputed to be a witches and sorcerer’s herb. This is another of the strange and ominous plants that can grant hallucinations and out of body experiences when ingested or if the body is annointed with a paste of the herb. German witches used to carry the herb to Brocken Peak on Walpurgis Night, for their (probably infernal, if the legends are to be believed) celebrations. Typically enough, this is another of the herbs that has a double edged reputation – in this case, it can both deter demons and summon them. The plant has a history of usage in ceremonial drugs, as well as to doctor someone’s pint to make it considerably easier to rob them, as small amounts of the herb causes similar effects to those caused by severe intoxication. The plant has also been used by priests to allow prophecy and divination, as well as as an aphrodisiac. Legend has it that the plant was originally introduced to Britain by the Rom, who smoked it as a hallucinogenic.   The burning leaves certainly cause an interesting effect.

Shamanically, the herb has been used to facilitate communication with the spirit world, possibly because it causes a certain amount of lucid dreaming and hallucinations. Historically, growing the herb deliberately could buy you a one way ticket to the stake! As with many of the other herbs traditionally associated with the evil witch’s garden, the Thornapple is ruled by Saturn.

The thornapple is a member of the Solanaceae family, as are Henbane, Mandrake and Belladonna, and like Henbane, it has unusually shaped, toothed leaves and a strong, unpleasant smell. The flowers are creamy white and trumpet shaped, and the seeds develop in the spiny pod that gained the plant the name ‘thornapple’.

In modern day herbal medicine, the plant is used as an antispasmodic for painful, spasmodic conditions of the digestive system, urinary tract and respiratory tract, as well as to treat asthma and as a pain killer and sedative. It is used to treat some nervous conditions, in particular Parkinsons disease and delirium.

opium-poppyOpium Poppy (Papaver somniferum)

The next entry in this exploration into Hecate’s plants is a bit of a departure from the Solanaceae family dominated entries so far. The Opium Poppy, Papaver somniferum, is the famous and notorious precursor of our modern drug, Morphine, as well as the herb behind the development of the Victorian drug, Laudanum, a tincture made from opium poppy. Unlike the rest of the herbs thus far, the Opium Poppy is ruled by the Moon, not Saturn, not altogether surprising in light of the fact that the drug provides hallucinogenic, narcotic and euphoric effects – the moon has always had an association with sleep, madness and dreams, after all! The Latin name ‘papaver’ apparently derives originally from the word ‘pappa’, meaning ‘breast’ – possibly alluding to the milky white sap that oozes from the ripening seed capsule. Somniferum derives from Greek, and means ‘sleep bearing’, unsurprisingly. Three thousand years ago, the plant was held as sacred by the ancient Sumerians, and the plant was also used by the ancient Egyptians as a sedative. The Anglo Saxons knew the plant as ‘Popig’, which later became the more well known ‘Poppy’, and apparently used the sap as a medicine for short tempered babies, although one has to wonder just how many children survived to see adulthood when dosed with this potent herb! The monks often grew the plant in their monastery herb gardens, using it in medicines to bring sleep and ease pain.

papaversomniferum2.jpgThe Opium Poppy is associated with sleep and dreams, and the drug morphine derives its name from the lesser god Morpheus, who appeared in dreams. The poppy also features in Greek myths, as it appeared around Demeter as she searched for her daughter Persephone, who had been abducted by Hades. The gods had placed the plant there to grant rest to the frantic Demeter. Nyx, a night Goddess, and her son, Thanatos, death, both wear or carry poppies. Opium Poppy is truly a double edged blade, being an essential pain killer on the one hand, and unfortunately being the precursor to Heroin on the other hand – this duality is fairly typical of the herbs associated with the Underworld.

Opium Poppy is an attractive annual, with pale pink to deep red flowers, ruffled leaves and tall stems. It grows wild in some fields and wastelands, as well as being cultivated in an assortment of different variations as an attractive garden plant – generally by those who are unaware of its ancient power and reputation.   It self sows readily in my garden, so I am treated to the sight of these beautiful flowers every summer.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply to zannah stibbons Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s