Wise Women Notebook, part 1: ‘Seven Magical Herbs’ with Ceara Foley

At the 10th annual Southeast Wise Women Herbal Conference, held from Oct. 10th through Oct. 12 on the beautiful grounds of Lake Eden in Black Mountain, 1,100 women gathered to study and celebrate. The conference is a three-day fall immersion, where women from across the country come together to study herbal medicine. Over 45 teachers offered classes in a diverse array of subject matter, from ‘Cherokee Herbal Medicine’ to ‘Local Stone Medicine.’ The intention of the conference is to empower, educate and inspire women to be their own healers while cultivating “a relationship with the feminine divine and celebrate the bonds between women,” as stated on the event’s website.

Throughout the ages, plants have been used in medicine as well as in magic. At a Sunday morning class, Ceara Foley discussed seven plants that she says have mystical, esoteric and healing properties. These plants correspond to the days of the week, sun signs, charkas and/or magical intentions, she explained. They’re allies within Foley’s own inner garden.

Mugwort

According to Foley, mugwort is associated with the moon. Plants aligned with the moon are connected to fluids in the body, help regulate menses, and are associated with the subconscious mind. Mugwort, which was commonly used in mead making throughout Europe, can be broken down into two words — “mug,” meaning brew, and “wort,” meaning plant.

Mugwort, which Foley associates with Monday, is used to enhance visions and dreams. The leaves and early flowers of the plant (which grows like a weed in the Appalachian Mountains) can be dried and burned. The smoke is thought to promote visions and can induce lucid dreaming. Burning the herb is also thought to move stagnant energy in the home and can be used as a smudge to clear a space. The dried plant can also be sewn into a dream pillow (but be warned, if you’re prone to nightmares, this plant can amplify and intensify dark dreams, Foley says).

As a tea, mugwort, though a little bitter, is a powerful antiparasite. As Foley notes, it can stimulate digestive fire and can even beckon an early menses. The tea can also be used to clean altar objects, cleansing them of any negative energy that they might be holding.

Young leaves can be used in a tincture, and these leaves should be harvested during the full moon. Mugwort has a protective quality to it as well.

Tulsi, holy basil

Holy basil is ruled by Mars and is associated with Tuesday. Plants affiliated with Mars are connected to heat within the body and to the root chakra. In Hindu, tulsi means “matchless,” or, as Foley translates, “the incomparable one.” It’s a satvik herb, that, if taken daily, is thought to connect one’s mind to spirit and spiritual thinking, transcending matters of the earth for deeper, universal and holy wisdom. A single leaf offered to the altar of Krishna is thought to be more valuable than all the flowers in the world. It’s also thought to “burn away sin,” says Foley, and to help connect people to their higher purpose in life. “In India,” Foley continues, “it’s really believed to be a panacea, a heal-all that helps with all systems of the body.”

“Tulsi,” adds Foley, “is one of the ultimate adaptogens. It helps us deal with the stress of the mind and body.” It’s great medicine for people living with chronic pain or illness: “it helps to take away the pain of being in pain.”

White Yarrow

Yarrow, “the Venus herb,” is associated with Friday. Venus herbs are associated with the sexual organs, with beauty, breasts; and they promote affection and clear communication.

Yarrow is thought to be an herb of great protection. As a child, Achilles was bathed in a protective bath of yarrow, according to the myth. His mother dipped him into this bath, holding him by the heel. Achilles was coated in a yarrow shield in all places except for one: his heel, which became his only point of vulnerability.

A sprig of fresh yarrow is thought to promote courage. When chewed and made into a spit poultice, it works as a quick remedy to stop bleeding. The flowers and leaves can be brewed into a tea to quell a fever or to wash wounds.

White yarrow was used in hand fasting ceremonies in Druid cultures to ensure “seven years of love.”

The flower essence of yarrow (made from the pink blossoms) is thought to “knit holes in the aura” and can be very powerful for empaths.

Orris Iris

In ancient Egypt , iris was a symbol of power and majesty. The three petals of the iris flower are said to represent, faith, wisdom and valor. Irises were used to adorn the brows of sphinxs, and the were grown on statues of great Egyptian kings, symbolizing power and majesty.

The root of Orris Iris is used magically “as a love-drawing root, said to help find and hold love,” says Foley. The dried root can be ground and sprinkled on your sheets, or at your doorway to welcome and beckon love. It can be ground and made into an incense (with copal, rosepetals, sandalwood, cinnamon and yarrow).

It’s root can also be used in divination: made into a pendulum or amulet to be worn around the neck.

Elder

Elder is ruled by Saturn. Saturn plants are cooling by nature and are generally woody trees or shrubs; often poisons or narcotic. As Foley says, “The elder tree is very sacred in a lot of traditions of witchcraft and Wicca. In the Celtic calendar Elder is the thirteenth month of the year, around Nov. 25th through Dec. 22nd. The thirteenth moon is a time out of time, associated with death, rebirth, the afterlife and the fairy world.”

As the sun dwindles and winter approaches, herbalists turn to elderberry (the black, beady fruits) to make into syrups that ward off colds. Elderberry syrup is safe to use all winter long for children and adults. It is an antiviral that promotes immune function.

Frankincense 

Frankincense, associated with the Sun and Sunday, is a solar herb that promotes circulation and the heart. Sun herbs are thought to help with issues of the self, helping people overcome inferiority complexes.

Frankincense is a sap harvested from the boswellia tree and is one of the most ancient forms of commerce, traded across Asia, Africa and Europe. The resin can be burned, and pure, clear forms of resin can be ingested. Frankincense, traditionally, was “burned in churches and in many holy places,” says Foley. “It was burned for its spiritually protective aspects, but it was also very pragmatic because churches are holy places and places of respite where people would come when sick, malnourished, transient, or dirty. It actually rid the environment of gems and helped keep people clean.”

Frankincense is an anti-inflammatory, thought to rejuvenate the mind, and used as an aid in meditation. In Arab cultures, Frankincense is burned to honor guests, while cleansing them of all that they might be carrying on them.

Ginger

Ginger is a carrier plant that makes all other herbs more powerful. In turn, ginger “amplifies all other magic,” says Foley, giving the magic or magical recipe more potency and power. It’s also a digestive aid. Though ginger doesn’t grow wild in these mountains, it can be planted in the early spring and harvested in the fall. The root can be used fresh or dried, and can be brewed into a tea or added to decoctions.

Stay tuned for more “Wise Women Wisdom” missives based on the conference.
Foley, the director of the Appalachian School of Holistic Herbalism, offers an array of classes in herbal medicine making locally, and for more information on the ASHH curriculum, click here.
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About Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt
Aiyanna grew up on the island of Kauai, Hawaii. She was educated at The Cambridge School of Weston, Sarah Lawrence College, and Oxford University. Aiyanna lives in Asheville, North Carolina where she proudly works for Mountain Xpress, the city’s independent local newspaper.

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