Welcome to the Woodland Bard School. I have researched tree and plant folk lore for over 25 years and this section is a summary of my findings. To make the most of the information below simply study one of the trees and plants a month and connect with the abundant traditions of our British flora. This information is accessible to everyone and completely free of any charges, just visit this page and enjoy. If you would like to pass the information onto others or use the material I am happy for you to do so but would encourage you to promote the work of WalkwithTrees and help to spread the word. If you wish to discuss the material on this page or add your own thoughts and ideas on the subject as well as be updated on groups and events connected to the course please visit the Woodland Bard School on Meet up. or the Facebook Woodland Bard School
I really hope you gain much from participating and learning about the native flora of Britain.
Our new course available in the shop on this website has proven very popular and will help you have a strong connection with the spiritual connections of the Celts and Nature, details below.
Woodland Bard Course:
‘A Spiritual journey into the heart of Britain through story, poetry and contemplation.’
Course 1: A personal journey into Tradition — This first unique booklet explores a personal connection to the traditions of Britain inviting you on a journey into your inner worlds through the perfect mirror of nature.
’I bought mine at Butser Ancient Farm for Imbolc. I recommend it highly.‘
’It’s really wonderful — a clear depiction of connecting with British traditions suitable for everyone.’
Visit the website shop to order your course.
New Woodland Bard Course in Brighton– explore the trees/plants and folklore of Britain through Storytelling,herbal remedies and meditation.Every second Wednesday of the month, booking essential.
Qualities of birch
Of withered trunk fair haired the birch.
Faded trunk and fair hair.
Browed beauty worthy of pursuit.
Most silver of skin.
Book of Ballymote 1391
Suggested story to research: The pursuit of Diarmaid and Grainne.
Contemplate what is it you want from life?
Start to build and visualise the life of your dreams remembering it is your state that is most important not necessarily external influences.
Create a magical bag or buy one! Just a simple shoulder bag of natural material will suffice and fill it with items that will connect you to your spiritual journey. A suggestion for this month is to collect a birch wand to represent the element of air connecting you to the song birds that flit in and out of the light airy birch canopy. Hold it when you meditate with the qualities of birch.
Try to identify and visit a birch tree. Meditate with her qualities and read the profile below as often as you are able to. Enjoy, be gentle with yourself……..
Birch Fact File.
Mature birchwood is often a light airy place supporting a myriad of many types of fungi (beech wood is also great for fungus). It casts little shade and one can often observe redpolls and tits flitting and feeding amongst the canopy. These birds will use the seed as a food source and the leaves are also a food source for the mottled umber caterpillar.
There are two classes of flora: 1. Blaeberry (Vaccinium mrytillus) rich birchwoods.
2. Herb-rich birchwoods with a grassy floor.
Often the soil to which it grows on is acid ( with a preference to lighter soils) and interestingly enough birch deacidfies the soil as not only are its leaves rich in nitrogen, thereby enriching the soil, but also in calcium therefore carrying out the former process.
Birch will also grow amongst other woodland types in clearings as it is an effective coloniser and also on the edges of woods wherever an opportunity arises. Its role in ancient natural history is as a first coloniser giving way to other species of tree in the process known as natural succession where the final species to dominate a given site is known as the Climax Species. However birch wood can be surprisingly persistent and is the natural climax species in the highlands of Scotland. Pollen from Loch Maree confirms continuous birch regeneration for the past 9,000 years! Further south in England we have a wood called ‘Birkland’ in Sherwood forest which name implies the Vikings recognized this site also as birchwood over a thousand years ago and still is today.
There are two main species of birch in Britian: 1/ Betula pendula, Silver Birch
2/ Betula pubescens, Downy Birch.
There is a third species special to Scottish highlands: Betula nana, Dwarf birch.
The two birches were formally recognised and published in 1791. The Downy Birch is more associated with ancient woodlands, has stiffer twigs which do not droop (better for brooms), the leaves have less ragged teeth, are hairy on the underside and have a triangular base.
The Silver Birch is more associated with wood pasture and is more useful for timber due to a more cylindrical trunk. Its branches droop and its leaves have a straight base and are not hairy.
In Scotland and in other parts of Britain birch has many uses. Commercially it was used for reels and bobbins aswell as the commonest fuel used for the ironworks in the weald. Locally its bark was used for roofing and making shampoo.
Birch sap collected in March can be used for kidney/bladder stones and rheumatic diseases as well as a cleansing mouthwash and is excellent for the skin.
Birch bark can be used as a diuretic, antiseptic and anaesthetic enabling nerve endings to lose sensations and relieve muscle pain.
Birch leaves help cystitis and are an excellent diuretic, mouthwash and dissolves kidney/bladder stones. Can also offer relief from rheumatism and gout.
Birch is associated with births, intiations, the Spring and love. The deities that work with those qualities through birch are in Wales Arianrhodd and Gwyndion; Diarmid and Grainnah in Ireland;. Frigga in Norway and the Anglo-saxon Goddesses of Spring Eostre.
The Ogham name Beithe means being or a being and the Birch Grove is a place to connect with otherwordly visitors. This connation is further enhanced as it is said to be the first ogham inscription that was written to warn Lugh Lamfada that his wife was being taken to faerie land.
Goose Grass (Gallium aparine)
Cleave to rock
Flush the system
Jonathon Huet 2012 ©
Goose Grass or Cleavers is a common plant that can be eaten as a green vegetable. Its seeds can be roasted to make a hot beverage. Medicinally the plant is an astringent and diuretic. It is used to help heal inward and outward wounds as well as being used to cleanse them. Internally it is used to treat psoriasis and eczema and support the lymphatic system. Best used fresh.
The plant clings or cleaves to fur/materials to aid its distribution, giving it its name. Shepherds have used it to strain hair out of sheep’s milk, and it has been fed to goslings, giving rise to the name Goose Grass.
There are many related species including hedge, heath and lady’s bedstraw which are all part of the bedstraw family ( Rubiaceae) so called as they are plants traditionally used for bedding.
Medicinally many species of bedstraw are used for staunching wounds especially woodruff, hedge, heath and lady’s bedstraw. The last two species are known for being styptics and therefore are good for treating nosebleeds.
Lady’s bedstraw is so named because the Virgin Mary is said to have given birth to Jesus upon it as all the other fodder was eaten by the donkeys. Due to this story the plant is said to help women to have a safe and easy childbirth. Lady’s bedstraw is also known to treat urinary diseases, epilepsy and gout and to help tired feet when placed in the bath. Its yellow flowers were used to curdle milk given rise to the folk names ‘cheese rennet’ and ‘cheese running’.
Both the leaves and stem of this plant create a yellow dye and the roots a red dye.
Crosswort ( Cruciata laevipes) is another bedstraw especially reputed for healing wounds. It grows in open woodlands and has yellow-green hairy leaves and numerous tiny yellow flowers. I usually dry the whole plant, steep it in oil for at least two weeks on a sunny windowsill, drain and add beeswax to produce an ointment.
I have related the bedstraw known as goose grass to the birch as it also flushes the system and once the foliage has died and dried it can be used as a tinder for lighting fires. It also starts to grow and becomes useful in early spring along with the birch. I sense it has a tenacious but supportive energy.
Qualities of Rowan
Delight of the eye is mountain ash, owing to the beauty of it’s berries.
Delight of the eye.
Strength or friend of cattle, the Elm.
Strength of cattle.
Book of Ballymote 1391
Suggested story to research: Continue the pursuit of Diarmaid and Grainne.
Rowan is the next step on the path from the Birch challenging us to face ourselves and our deeper emotions. It has a strong energy of protection and takes us into deep states of consciousness urging us to recognise the spiritual realms and understand them more thoroughly. Allow Rowan to guide you into more difficult areas of your psyche.
Meditate on what is holding you back from moving on in your life?
The element to focus on this month is fire, the fire you need to transform and make changes but beware of not allowing it to consume you. If you become too obsessed with your visions you will not know peace in your heart. You may wish to obtain a knife ( athame) to represent fire and to add to your magical bag.
Rowan Fact File.
Sorbus aucuparia (Latin). Luis (Ogham name). Caorann (Gaelic).
Rowan, like birch, was early in succession from the last ice age and also is most common in the highlands of Scotland; in fact the commonest tree except birch. Rowan is often confined to poor acid soils in Eastern England and is probably a naturalised species in southerly regions. Its berries are a food source for many birds connecting it to the musical spheres as well as a poetic muse for poets.
The Sorbus family to which rowan belongs is an interesting collection of trees including the Whitty Pear (Sorbus domestica), Britain’s rarest tree. The more common Whitebeam is a delightful tree growing more usually on limestone and chalk soils. The Wild Service-tree (Sorbus torminalis) has distinctive triangular lobed leaves and has a thin distribution across England as far north as the Lake District. The latter tree has been identified from charcoal from the late Iron Age and is often known as the Chequer Tree producing fruit which if left to go ‘sleepy’ (rather like medlars) can be used in home brewing.
Rowan is steeped in ancient lore and medieval superstitions. Rowan may be a derivative of runa, a word meaning charm or spell and certainly has a strong connection with witches. Witches have used it to protect and work magic but contrarily they are also said to fear it for it is said if they are touched by the tree the devil will consume them!
The berries were said to induce altered states, and spells were said to be written on rowan staves. Older references also focus on its magical properties and it has a certain sinister reputation in the ancient legends, when meat is offered on rowan spits both to Finn MacColl by phantoms and to Cuchulainn, (famous Irish warrior), by the Morrigawn. There is an ancient magical ritual mentioned in old documents called ‘Tarbh Fheis’ which involves sleeping on a bed of woven rowan twigs to induce a magical trance in order to gain hidden knowledge.
Rowan has been used for protection in the form of an equal-armed cross or by simply carrying the berries or wood with you at night especially at Midsummer to stop you being transported to the faerie realms. The tree is planted instead of standing stones to guard earth energies. There is said to be a rowan guarded by the giant Searbhan Lochannoch called the Tree of Dubrois and it is said to transform a person of 100 years old to one 30 years old. Luis means ‘swarm’ or ‘great many’ which may refer to warriors and huntsmen who gather under the rowan as described in literature about the Tree of Clonfert and the Wry Rowan.
The rowan has a strong connection with archetypal Goddesses especially Bridget and Brigantia both who preside over water cults, pastoral people, flocks and herds, connecting rowan to the green world and the lord of the hunt and cattle, which were key providers for the Celtic people. A female Druid, Dreco, whose grandfather was a Druid called Carton, probably a corruption of the word Caerthann, Gaelic for rowan carried a magical rowan spear.
Medicinally rowan’s bark is used for treating diarrhoea and its berries for sore throats.
Dandelion (Taraxcom officinale)
Friend of minerals
Jonathon Huet 2012 ©
The word dandelion is a corruption of the French ‘dent de lion’ which means ‘lions tooth’ referring to the shape of the leaf.
Another common plant which is underrated. In medieval times it was grown as a vegetable cooked like spinach or added to salads. It is rich in vitamins A and C and a superior diuretic as it replaces the potassium lost in the process.
The leaves are also a strong equivalent to frusemide and can be used for hypertension when dried.
The root can also be used as a vegetable sautéed in vegetable oil and is a powerful liver tonic and coffee substitute. Use the root dried or fresh.
I have related dandelion to rowan as I feel the plant has a strong ability to connect us with the nature spirits of the nutrients and minerals of the earth connecting us deeply to the green world. Dandelion keeps us rooted to the earth, grounding our visions into reality.
Qualities of Alder.
Alder, the van of warrior bands for thereof are the shields.
Shield of warrior bands.
Protector of the heart, the shield.
Guarding of milk.
Book of Ballymote 1391
Suggested stories to research : The Cattle Raid of Cooley.
Now is the time to move forward and the alder shield is your protection. In Celtic times the warriors shield went first into the battle and the courage needed to walk forward into a horde of armoured men must have been immense. That same courage can be used to face difficult times and emotions. The courage to sit with your feelings rather than fill your time with exciting pursuits is as difficult as any expedition to the North pole!
The element of focus this month is Earth, the alder is rooted in the earth grounding our experiences to enable us to understand and strengthen our resolve. Find a stone or make an alder shield to represent earth.
Alder fact file
Alnus glutinosa (Latin) Fearn (Ogham) Aler (Anglo-Saxon) Elri (Norse) Gwernen (Welsh/Cornish)
The Alder can be a large canopy tree up to 70ft high laden with last year’s cones and reddish brown catkins at the same time fringing wetlands with a beautiful spring sight which is perhaps why the Norsemen called March ‘Lenct’ ( to become Lent) which means ‘the lengthening month of Alder’.
Alder is often thought of as a Faerie or elemental tree, an axis from which the elements flow and form.
Water– forms a valuable habitat known as ‘Carr’ supporting much wildlife on wetlands or beside rivers and lakes.
Fire– Alder wood does not burn especially well but produces hot charcoal and gunpowder
Earth– The tree roots into the ground fixing nitrogen salts therefore enriching the soil around it.
Air– It has ‘Royal’ purple buds, the colour of the Raven and therefore connects the tree to the raven-headed giant Bran who has oracular powers of prophecy and protects the land of Britain from invaders. The wood has also been used to make whistles and pipes.
Alder in Lore is considered to be the male counterpart to the Willow as they both preside over our waterways nourishing and supporting this vital system. The male aspect is further enforced in the trees association with warriors. The wood was used to make a shield, and a fiery red dye obtained from the bark called ‘roeim’ (that which reddens the face) may have been used like woad to strike fear into the enemy. In the Welsh triads they speak of crimson stained Warriors of the Alder Cult. Dyes can also be obtained from the flowers (green) and the twigs (brown).The war Goddess the Morrigawn also takes the form of the raven and therefore one could associate her with the Alder.
The latin ‘Alnus’ may have been derived from the phrase ‘Alor Amne’- I am nourished by the stream. The tree can be used for healing. The leaves can help relieve weary feet and put into duvets and cushions etc they can be used to give rheumatic relief. The leaves can also be used to tan leather and the bark can be placed on burns and inflammations including the neck if inflamed.
Alder wood is not durable unless immersed in water so is an ideal wood for water pipes, troughs, canal lock gates etc. Much of Venice is built on Alder piles and the wood in Britain would have been used as foundations for ‘Crannogs’- villages built on waterways in ancient times.
There are three main woodland types of Alder: Fen– low level ground on floodplains of rivers and streams. Valley– Growing along narrow fringes to streams or climbing flushed slopes especially in Western Britain. Plateau– level uplands often on a watershed. Alder generally will colonize new sites dispersed by water and to a lesser extent wind. It coppices well.
Alder doesn’t like stagnant anaerobic water or severe prolonged flooding but prefers moving oxygenated water and is associated with plants of fertile soil maybe due its nitrogen-fixing properties. In a mixed wood it associates itself with Lime, Birch, Chestnut and Hornbeam growing in soils varying from 3.3ph– 7.3ph. Local name indicators include Cargate and Carrfell.
Nettle (Urtica diocia)
Strength of spirit
Friend of man
Jonathon Huet 2012 ©
Nettle, despite it being a noxious weed everyone is trying to destroy, is a ‘super’ plant that can be used for food, medicine and the making of cloth/cordage.
It is associated with fertile lands and the Anglo-Saxons used it as a strong purger of illness, believing it had a warrior– type energy to take on bad spirits; for these two reasons I have associated nettle with Alder.
The leaves are full of minerals and vitamins especially A and C, and have a 2.3% iron content and 5.5% protein content by weight. Nettle purée can be made by simmering the leaves for 5 minutes adding butter and seasoning with onion as a tasty alternative to spinach. You can simply boil and steam the vegetable if preferred.
As a medicine nettle can be collected just before it flowers to relieve high blood pressure, cystitis, anaemia (due to mineral rich leaves) and can act as a diuretic. Use the leaves fresh or dry. The root can treat diarrhoea and dysentery and be made into a tincture for eczema.
The plant can also be used to weave cloth; a bronze age Dane was discovered wrapped in nettle fabric. Only last century the plant was used to make table cloths and bed linen in Scotland. In world war two the plant was gathered to supply chlorophyll for medicines and dye for camouflage nets.
Qualities of Willow
Willow, the colour of the lifeless one
owing to the resemblance of its colour to a dead person.
Hue of the lifeless.
Beginning of loss, willow.
Strength of bees.
Book of Ballymote 1391
Suggested story to research: Combat of Cuculainn and Ferdia.
Willow teaches us that our power is in the feminine aspect of ourselves. That our strength is in our vulnerability and that it is okay to express our deep feelings and show our weaknesses. It is only through truly feeling our pain we can be freed from it. Bend in the storm or better still dance in the rain. Be purified and strengthened by the element of water, the feminine principle. Find a cauldron or chalice to represent the element of water.
Willow fact file
Salix species. Salix alba– white willow Salix fragilis– crack willow Salix caprea– goat willow
Willow has strong connections in country lore with the moon, female principles and the waterways. Our largest willows are the white and crack willow that can reach 80ft in height. There are also several willows such as osier, bay willow and almond leaved willow which are shrubs rather than trees.
Celtic traditions sometimes encouraged trees to be planted at burial sites so the spirit of the corpse can rise into the sapling above, willow probably being a preferred choice as it is said to ease the passage of the soul at death. To wear willow is to grieve openly and the tree I suspect encourages us to be open to our deeper emotions.
Witches brooms may be bound with willow to dedicate the broom to the goddess and the moon. Its leaves , bark and wood maybe be burnt as incense for similar reasons.
Celtic lore speaks of willow connected to in-between states and otherworld experiences. Her connection with water enhances that as water represents that more fluid otherworldly state the cycle of life and death and returning to the source. Gypsies cut willow on Green George day (23rd April) to propitiate water spirits, bless the crops, herds, and pregnant women and heal the young and old.
As a provider of early nectar the tree is associated with bees who the Celts regarded as perfect examples of community life all working together to achieve their goals, and as beings from the otherlands.
The Sumerian goddess Belili rules over the moon, love and the underworld and therefore is connected to willow as are other powerful goddess archetypes such as Hecate and Cerridwen. Women were warriors and leaders in Celtic Society and often trained the young men in battle. The old adage of the Willow bending in the wind rather than resisting it comes to mind as we recognise the power of the feminine source.
Willow is a great medicinal healer containing Salicylic acid the main ingredient in asprin. Its leaves and especially its bark can be used to ease rheumatism, headaches and other inflammations in the body.
Its wood is light and tough and has been used for rafters and floors and a certain white willow species for cricket bats. The stems/branches are strong and very flexible making them ideal for weaving baskets, hats and making coracles.
Burdock (Arctium Lappa/minus)
Jonathon Huet 2012 ©
This plant has a deep root that can be eaten fresh or dried as a blood purifier. In fact it is one of the finest and most effective blood purifiers in the medical world working with the kidneys to filter out all the impurities from the blood. As it is an effective healer I have associated the plant with Willow, and sense its deep seated root encourages us to go deep within. It especially speaks to me of dealing with grief. Fresh leaves can be applied to ulcers and sores as they are cooling and moderately drying.
As food the young stalks can be peeled and chopped to add to a meat broth or eaten with melted butter. The root as
already mentioned can also be eaten by chopping it into rings and frying it. The sticky bur– like buds are very abrasive to the skin and have been named bachelor or sticky buttons.
Burdock is sometimes known as ‘wild rhubarb’ to which it resembles with its large leaves.
Qualities of Ash
Ash, a check on peace is Ash for of it are made spear shafts by which the piece is broken.
Checking of peace.
Flight of beauty, a weavers beam.
Flight of beauty.
Book of Ballymote 1391
Suggested story to research: Lady of the fountain?.
Ash is a culmination of all the work you have done so far and the skills you have learnt now it is time to go forward with greater confidence and achieve whatever you have set your heart upon doing. Although the Ash is connected to warriors and the male aspects of ourselves it also like willow recognises the deeper power of the feminine aspect. Ash is the world tree and represents the fifth element, the centre and core of ourselves and everything in the universe.
Ash fact file
Fraxinus excelsior ( Latin). Nion (Ogham) Aesc ( Anglo Saxon)
Ash established itself later than some tree species after the last ice age and especially increased when Elm declined in Neolithic times.
Ash timber as well as its wood has been sought after for centuries. It has been used to create early weapons such as bows and spears to the modern cavalry lance. Its other uses are diverse including tools, frames and shafts of vehicles both modern and ancient. It is the second most recorded timber tree in history and is the most commonly used plantation tree since the 17th Century.
Ash casts a light shade and is light-demanding, living no longer than 200 years in normal conditions. If it grows in infertile soils and is thus forced to grow slowly it will live longer and as a coppice stool indefinitely! The largest stool in Bradfield woods is 18.5 feet across and is at least 1000 years old and still has good vigour.
Traditionally Ash is the Warriors’ Tree, as it has been used for weaponry for thousands of years. Its war-like qualities were emphasised through the war god Odin with his ashen spear from Scandinavia and Denmark, for example. The Vikings were often known as Aescling– Men of Ash. They also knew Ash as the World Tree, Askr Yggdrasill, the centre of the universe round which everything moves. Its roots (the underworld) were said to be guarded by a huge serpent, the trunk (this world); and its canopy the (upperworlds) upon which sits an eagle and goats browse on its leaves. The spring, at its base, is where the Norns reside, who rule over the destiny of us all.
In Celtic/Irish lore Ash is also known as the warrior’s tree as an Ash spear is wielded by the solar hero Lugh Lamfada and the early race of men in Irish stories called the Fir bolgs ( men of spears) also were said to wield superior ash spears. The spear and the sling were the only long range weapons used by the Irish Celts in the Bronze/Iron ages. There were said to be five sacred trees planted in Ireland and three of them were Ash for the warriors.
Nion, the Ogham name for ash means, ‘a thing produced’ possibly implying a more subtle use of Ash, the spear ( especially when referred to as the weavers’ beam) is a magical tool to help heal and move people on in their lives.
Sick children have been passed through split ash for healing and it is said a shrew was buried in an ash tree to bring about healing e.g. Ash by the church in Selborne in Hampshire.
Ash wood juice has been used to protect infants from harm. The bark helps ease fevers, the leaves for rheumatism and as a laxative/diuretic and its seeds were said to provoke lust and its decaying wood an active ingredient in an aphrodisiac powder. Ash crosses are made for sea protection and the Vikings were thought to use ash as a magical implement. In the past ash roots were carved into magical images.
Ash wood is known as the perfect fuel for the fire and was traditionally used as the Yule log burnt at the Winter Solstice to celebrate this time of year, the birth of the Sun God.
Many poems and songs have been written of Oak, Ash and Thorn giving these three trees a special place in our British traditions, and where the three grow together a magical place of wonderment.
Rosebay Willowherb ( Epilobium angustifolium).
Jonathon Huet 2012 ©
Rosebay is the only species that is generally safe to use for food and medicinal uses. As a herb it is used dried for whooping cough and asthma. As a food plant the young shoots can be steamed and peeled and its pith is used to thicken soups. Leaves can be used as a garnish or dried for a tea.
This plant became well known during the war as it brightened up London bomb sites that it effectively colonised in World War Two.
Hoverflies, bees and caterpillars of the elephant hawkmoth are supported by this plant.
The Great Willowherb (E.hirsutum) has a local name of ‘codlins and cream.’ Some say codlin means cooking apples due to the smell of the plant undectable by most people or maybe it refers to the seed capsule known as ‘Codde’. Hirsutum means hairy which speaks for itself. ‘Willowherb’ refers to its slender stems and leaves.
I have associated it with Ash as I feel it also has a moving dynamic warrior type energy.
Qualities of Hawthorn
Huath is Whitethorn. A meet of hounds is White thorn, it is formidable owing to its thorns.
Pack of wolves.
A difficult night, Hawthorn.
Whitening of face.
Book of Ballymote 1391
Suggested story to research: Kilwch and Owen
Hawthorn represents the inevitable back lash, both positive and negative of taking action in one’s life. It is also the abode of the heart where we are nourished, protected and loved. Take shelter in the hawthorn thicket to strengthen your heart and resolve.
Hawthorn Fact File.
Crataegus monogyna (common hawthorn) Crataegus laevigata ( midland hawthorn) Droiheann (old English) Hagaporn ( Anglo-Saxon) Huath ( ogham )
There are two types of Hawthorn known in this country. The first is common and widespread, the second (known as Midland or simply woodland Hawthorn) is restricted to the South and East and is an ancient woodland indicator, an uncommon sight. The latter has a bushy habit and shallowly lobed leaves, able to flower in the shade.
This distinction was first made in France in 1790.
Hawthorn, especially since the 1500s, has been an important underwood species grown for fuel and its bark used for ink. Before barbed wire hawthorn was our main fencing, and early forestry writers recommend Hawthorn as a nurse tree when sowing a new plantation. However the tree can colonize chalk downland too effectively becoming a permanent habitat thus threatening the delicate balance of our downs. This is known as being ‘bushed over’.
However the hawthorn is generally welcome, tolerating shade and grazing effectively (although new growth takes three weeks for the thorns to harden up and protect the plant from mammals like deer). The tree supports many insects, birds and mammals providing cover, nectar and fruit.
The Hawthorn has two sides to it. On one hand it is a healer of the heart, a tree of protection and supporter of life. A guardian of sacred wells( to which cloth is tied to), a love charm, helping cattle thrive and friendly to travellers as well as a food source for them, which is why it is known as the bread and cheese tree. This is the blossoming spring tree dedicated to the maiden goddess archetypal figure such as Olwen of the White Track.
However as a tree that protects and harbours the elementals taking people into other realms it has a sinister side to its nature. Stories of people trying to fell certain Hawthorn trees normally ends in tragedy, maybe the most famous being bulldozed by John Delorean in Ireland. This is the winter thorn standing in the thicket as a speared warrior dedicated to the powerful archetypal earth god such as Yspaddeden Pencawr which means giant hawthorn.
Huath, its ogham name, means frightful or horrible, reminding us of the inevitable backlash our actions can bring.
It is said in the old stories devasting satire was pronounced whilst holding the thorn of the tree.
Maybe this is why there is a custom of adorning and worshipping Hawthorn known as ‘bawming the thorn’.
Hawthorn wood is hard wearing ideal for knife/dagger handles making them lucky. Its root wood is also used to make beautiful small boxes and combs. It is also good firewood.
As a herb its berries, leaves and flowers are great for heart problems, especially high blood pressure and are all good for insomnia and helping one relax.
Yarrow ( Achillea millefolium )
Jonathon Huet 2012 ©
A fantastic herb for many wounds as well as containing a natural antiseptic (cineol) and helps to hasten the clotting time of blood which has given rise to its folk name ‘nosebleed’. The herb can be used fresh or dried and put direct onto a wound or made into an ointment.
Its Latin name Achillea reminds us that Achilles used it to cure wounds inflicted by iron weapons as did the Anglo-Saxons warriors. In Ireland the plant is said to drive away evil and therefore sickness.
It is also considered a Woman’s herb increasing attractiveness and protecting them from men.
This goddess plant, having white flowers and healing properties, gives Yarrow, I feel, a strong connection with Hawthorn.
Qualities of Oak
Higher than bushes is Oak.
Highest of bushes and a third.
Kneeling work, bright and shining work.
Book of Ballymote 1391
Suggested story to research: Birth of Fionn McCuaill
Oak continues to shelter and strenghten us enabling us to draw confidence and power from it. Now you have the ability to do anything you wish.
Oak Fact File.
Quercus robur ( penduculate oak ) Quercus petraea ( sessile oak ) Duir ( Ogham )
Oak is a tree that has survived well since it regenerated in early wildwood times. It was avoided by the first farmers and encouraged by the early carpenters, no other tree in Britain has captured the imagination and attention of mankind than the oak. Its timber is durable and good to work with, it has many medicinal qualities and useful tannins, it supports countless wildlife and grows to impressive proportions, and can live for many hundreds of years. Its success is partly due to mankind’s love of its timber and its ability to capture the nation’s heart.
There are two species of Oak which were first recognized in 1586–7 although this was not really taken on by British botanists until1790s.
Quercus robur (pendulate oak) is what we think of as the English Oak with its wide canopy and rustic appearance. It has a dense canopy and rough unstalked leaves with stalked acorns.
Quercus petraea ( sessile oak) is often a taller more stately tree with a more open canopy and flat palmate leaves which are stalked and it bears unstalked acorns. Both these trees can hybridise and cause even more confusion.
Both oaks are known to produce Lammas shoots which are healthy erect shoots that grow strongly in August sometimes in contrast to wilting or struggling shoots in dry years. There is a striking rare variety of Penduculate oak which produces red Lammas shoots.
Sessile oak is more common in the west and north, most commonly growing in the Scottish highlands. Pure oak wood generally grows on the most acid of woodland soils although it is known to grow on calcareous soils in Scotland where it is much more widespread. Hatfield Forest in Essex is an exception as it comprises an ancient oakwood on calcareous soil.
Oak is generally a first coloniser not growing well in shade. It is not so much birch and hawthorn grow first on oakwood regeneration sites but just quicker thus deceiving the avid naturalist who assumes they came first!
In the Doomsday Book woods were assessed by pannage although this practice died out soon after as farmers began to feed pigs in more conventional ways. Beech mast was also used for pannage.
The Anglo– Saxon phrase ac means oak and can be noticed in many place names such as Accrington, Auckland and Acton.
The traditions of Oak are numerous; from Christian lore the tree has been used to preach under and a place where Angels have appeared. In Celtic lore it is the abode of strong male deities such as the Dagdha, Herne the hunter, Cernunnus and the archetypal images of the spirit of the trees such as the Green Man or Green George.
It is said to be a channel for the might of the sky gods such as Taranis, Thunor, Esus and Thor as it attracts lightning.
Merlin and Robin Hood were said to have been protected under the oak’s canopy. St Brigit founded a retreat in Kildare called the Cell of Oak and rumours state that the Nuns used acorns as fuel on their fires.
Charles the second hid in an oak after defeat at the battle of Worcester on the 29th May 1651 which is now known as Royal Oak Day. At one time oak sprigs were collected for hats and door knockers on this day which may well be a continuation of the Druidic Oak apple day still celebrated in Wiltshire. The Oak Man, Jack in the Green or the May King dances through the streets wreathed in oak and hawthorn to claim the May Queen. Traditionally the Oak King Giant fights the Holly King Giant at Midsummer making him the King of the waxing year and the two oak trees, Gog and Magog at Glastonbury are said to be the last two giants to inhabit Britain.
Oak bark is used for diarrhoea, piles, inflammations of the throat, chilblains and frost bite. As a powder it is used for nosebleeds and bedsores.
Bruised oak leaves can be applied to wounds to ease inflammations and as a mild antiseptic.
Plantain (Plantago) Greater Plantain ( P. Major ) Ribwort Plantain (P. lanceolata) Hoary Plantain ( P.media).
Jonathon Huet 2012 ©
The four common species of Plantain are listed above. The greater has the broadest leaves followed by the hoary plantain which leaves are nearly as broad but are hairy where the greater is not. Ribwort Plantain has longer narrow leaves which are often downy. There are also two seaside species called buckshorn (P.coronopus) and sea plantain ( P.maritima).
Plantain species treat piles and diarrhoea whilst the ribwort species is especially recommended to treat asthma and bronchitis. The leaves can be dried and taken as a tea for the above treatments. Fresh leaves are ideal to check bleeding of wounds and soothe burns and sores as well as insect bites. The leaves can also be dried to make an ointment which is effective for wounds, burns and insect bites.
The greater plantain has the largest and most abundant flower spike of the plantain species. One may use the seed to make bannock and add to soups– an alternative to linseeds with mucilaginous and laxative properties. Birds also enjoy the seed given rise to local names such as bird’s meat and canary flower.
Five thousand years ago evidence suggests that early farmers cleared a lot of land for farming practice. One such evidence is the increase in plants such as the plantain which will grow in cleared compact ground and withstand heavy grazing. This is possibly why the plant is called Plantago from the root word Planta meaning sole of foot. A further reference is made to this theory by the native Americans calling this plant white man’s footprint.
Hoary plantain is the only species which is insect pollinated using its delicate scent to attract bees.
This plant I have associated with the oak which also has benefited from human interference and has similar herbal properties.
Qualities of Holly
A third of a wheel is holly for it is one of three timbers of the chariot wheel.
Third of a wheel.
A third of weapons, an iron bar.
Fires of coal.
Book of Ballymote 1391
Suggested story to research: The Oak and Holly King
Holly is the inbetween state, allowing us to see beyond the conditioning of ourselves. Holly moves us forward enabling us to cut the ties with people and patterns that no longer serve us or drain our energy.
Holly Fact File.
Holegn ( Anglo-saxon). Holin (middle English to become Holm/Hulver) Hussetum (medieval Latin) Celynen( Welsh)
Holly is a widespread tree but less common in Eastern England and East Scotland. Despite the fact that Holly is considered bad luck to cut ( possibly as a result of that has become the commonest hedgerow tree in East Anglia) its wood is of much use. Holly wood can be sanded to a beautiful white finish and is hard, strong and durable making it ideal for cogs used in machinery. The close grained wood makes it ideal for carving and turnery. Holly foliage has been used for fodder for both sheep and deer and its bark has been used for bird lime for the unpleasant task of catching birds. Its wood also makes good charcoal. Spears and chariot shafts were also made from Holly.
However in nature Holly is an important tree, a speciality of the British Isles, an example of a broad-leaved forest rare outside of Britain just like the Strawberry tree is in South-West Ireland. This inevitably means ancient Holly sites must be protected. Holly woods include sites in Epping, the New Forest, Sherrard’s Park Wood and the grandest stand in Staverton Park. Holly thrives in the west usually on acid soils (although as with many native species there are exceptions!). Holly will both cast and tolerate shade, one of the few species which has actually profited from woodcutting rights being terminated in 1878 due to its shade tolerance. Generally Holly regeneration is increasing as grazing declines. Holly has a poor flora but can be rich in bryophytes, provides shelter and food for mammals and birds and provides nectar for insects.
Holly’s strongest traditions are around the time of the winter solstice as the Holly is the King of the waning year. At the winter solstice the Holly King duels with the Oak King and loses as the Oak is the King of the waxing year.
This dual repeats itself in the summer solstice when the Holly King wins. Holly speaks of tenacity, a refusal to give up and its evergreen leaves lift one’s spirits and shelter the fairies and elves. It is said it is safe to bring Holly foliage into the house at the time of the Winter Solstice (21st/22nd December) as the nature spirits are not going to harm you provided they are removed by Imbolc! In some parts of Europe Holly is known as ‘Christ’s thorn’as the thorny leaves and red berries represent the suffering of Christ and the passion of his message. The darker side of Holly speaks of it as the King of Darkness as the above testifies, perhaps a wilder scarier form of the Green Man. The Green Knight from Arthurian tales has a Holly club and perhaps represents the challenging Holly giant. Nadcranntail, a famous warrior in Irish stories who carried nine holly spears charred and sharpened as did Mannanan Mac lir the Irish sea God. The weaving sisters’ spindles who weave the web of life were made of holly. The twelfth night in some traditions has been known as Holly night and the strongman of the village carries a heavy holly branch through the streets as part of a procession on this night. Holly is considered to be a guardian against evil spirits, poisons, short-tempered angry elementals, thunder and lightening. The ogham name Tinne means a link as in a chain or a bridge but to where? Maybe the otherworld, as the Kennings for this tree point to the otherworldly character of the Holly ogham and it is regarded as a pivotal point for the other letters and an in-between state (betwixt) of life and death, a Tainaiste ( second/double for the King) that substitutes his life to protect the true King ( the sovereignty of the land).
Medicinally holly leaves can be used to induce a sweat and therefore rid the body of poisons and fevers. The berries are a purgative and if dried and powdered can help relieve diarrhoea and heavy menstrual flow.
Herb Robert ( Geranium robertianum)
Jonathon Huet 2012 ©
A plant with bright red stems especially when mature which Wordsworth has commented on in his works. However these stems were noted long before Wordsworth in the phenomenon known as the doctrine of signatures.
This term is used to describe the concept that a plant resembles that which it can cure and is said to be employed by tribal doctors across the world. It is said Herb Robert is one of the best plants for blood disorders and to staunch wounds brought to the attention of early herbalists by its red stems.
The fresh leaves can be used as a compress for wounds and as a sedative and astringent, and a gargle for sore throats and mouth. A lotion can be made from it for irritated eyes.
The plant can be dried and used internally to lower blood sugar for diabetics, help diarrhoea, peptic ulcers and treat an internal haemorrhage.
The name Robert may simply mean red (ruber) for its stems or a reference to Robert the Duke of Normandy whom wrote a medieval medical treatise on the plant. It s foliage has a pungent smell given rise to the local name of ‘stinking bob’.
I have associated this plant with Holly due to its tenacious nature and a sense of its ability to cut away draining relationships in a similar way to the magical properties of Holly.
Qualities of Hazel
Fair wood that is Hazel, everyone is eating if it’s nuts.
Fairest of trees.
Sweetest of woods, a nut.
Friend of cracking.
Book of Ballymote 1391
Suggested story to research: Fionn McCuaill and the Salmon of Fec
Hazel enables us to take action from an intuitive state, getting us in touch with our true reality and the life we wish to lead.
Hazel Fact File
Corylus avellana (Latin) Coll ( Ogham)
Hazel is a tree as well-used and known as the oak; it has played a huge part in the history of woodsmanship. It spread effectively throughout Britain after the last ice age and probably helped form a staple food for early humankind. Known as the Celtic Tree of Knowledge it is not hard to see why the nuts ( representing illumination) were so revered in a time when much of our native foods must have been bland in comparison. Hazel is connected to the life of the salmon which also represents illumination and must have also been a staple food fit for the gods! Hazelnuts are rich in mineral salts and can be ground to a powder to make a flour as well as to soothe sore throats and relieve symptoms of a head cold. It is also thought they bestow the gift of eloquence.
Not only did hazel provide a rich source of food, its wood was ideal for many crafts being strong, flexible, easy to split and coppice. The wood can be used to make hurdles for fencing, walls for fencing, springels to hold thatch in place, stakes and supports to grow plants, fishing rods, baskets, coracles etc etc…….
No wonder it became so venerated and the traditional stories started to explore a deep spiritual aspect to its multi-faceted usage. The most famous story connected to hazel is of Finn McCuill (son of hazel) from the Fenian cycle who becomes enlightened merely from sucking the juice of the salmon of Fec caught in a pool surrounded by nine hazel trees, the nuts of which the salmon fed upon.
Hazel catkins mark the time of Imbolc or Oimelc (means butter bag) as they resemble lamb’s tails and this season is traditionally the time when lambs are born and sheep begin to lactate. It is also the festival of Brigit who amongst other things is the muse of poets through the hazel ( a tree of poets and heralds).
The hazel is connected to the elements and has a lightness about it and yet to meet the dripping hazel poisoned by the head of the giant Balor ( leader of the Fomhoire) is to experience its darker nature. Satire and keening can be associated with this tree in Celtic lore and Brigit is said to be the first person to keen unreservedly at the death of her son Ruadhan.
Hazel generally prefers a more acid soil and supports a rich flora; it will co-exist happily with honey fungus provided there is not too much shade and trees aren’t planted!
Commercial forestry does not employ hazel so extensively as it would have at one time partly due to a decline in the faggot trade although hazel is still in demand for wattle hurdles often now used for motorway fencing and in gardens.
Hampshire and Sussex are strongholds for hazel but on a national scale hazel is declining and is threatened due to its lack of regeneration. Neglected coppice means the tree will not flower and therefore fruit. When hazel does fruit the woodpigeons and squirrels will devour the nuts often when they are still unripe meaning dropped seed will not grow.
Wood avens ( Geum urbanum )
Heal the stomach
Jonathon Huet 2012 ©
A common hedge– bank plant with its distinctive yellow star shaped flowers and burr-like fruit. There are other plants in the same genus in more specialised habitats, namely the water avens and mountain avens which are easily told apart. You are more likely to spot its other family members the tormentil, cinquefoils and wild strawberry.
This plant is also known as herb bennet and known to act as an antiseptic, astringent, a tonic for the stomach and a healer of diseases of the intestinal tract. The tormentil and cinquefoils have similar herbal properties and it is wise to note tormentil must be used with caution as its astringent effects are very strong. Bennet is a term that comes from the Latin benedictus meaning blessed and you would think this plant would have more acknowledgement in the medicinal world with a name that implies ‘blessed herb’. It is thought it was named after the Benedictine monks.
Its roots have a delicate aroma and help keep away flies and flavour ale. It has been remarked (1491) that he who carries the root about with him will be protected by venomous beasts and that the plant hung over doors will keep evil spirits at bay.
I have connected this plant with hazel as I feel it enhances the intuition, protects and connects us to the spiritual realms of the animal/plant kingdoms.
Qualities of Apple
Shelter of a wild hind is an apple.
Shelter of a hind, lunatic, death sense, a time when a lunatic’s senses come back to him.
Excellent emblem, protection.
Force of a man.
Book of Ballymote 1391
Suggested story to research: Oisin and Niamh
The apple tree tells us it is a time of fruition, a time to gather our resources and feel abundant. It also protects us from the negative states of the mind.
Apple tree fact file
Malus sylvestris (Latin) Quert ( Ogham)
Like hazel, apple is a tree of knowledge and a provider of nutritious food. The apple tree is known in many cultures and traditions including Greek mythology and Christian lore.
In Britain there are many tales and indeed warnings of the eating of apples. The general agreement amongst these traditions is that apple is connected to the otherworld and can confer divine knowledge and inspiration but at a price for once that knowledge is known there is no going back. Stories speak of Isles of paradise with sacred apple trees. Glastonbury is said to be a physical manifestation of Avalon from the Gaelic Evain avaloch meaning holy hill of apples. Thomas of Ercledoune was given the gift of prophecy by the Queen of the fairies and warned he may never return from the otherlands. The apple is a symbol of office for those great souls such as Sweeny Geilt, Taliesin and Merlin who dared to risk their lives and especially the sanity of their minds to travel to the otherlands.
Shamanic traditions across the globe speak of the healers or wise ones who risk their lives for the knowledge to help their tribe or community. The ogham letters for apple is QU or CU a synonym for a warrior in Celtic lore, in this case a spiritual warrior unafraid to face death or travel to the otherlands.
Orchards come into their own at Samhain ( the time when the otherlands are most accessible). Apples are piled high and eaten in abundance. Apples are wassailed ( celebrated) with song, ritual and toasts. Often libations of cider are poured on the apple tree’s roots.
In ancient times Pliny recognizes 22 varieties of apple but since then over 2000 varieties have made their way across Europe especially from France into Britain. Apples contain much goodness, full of sugars, amino acids, vitamins, pectin, mineral salts, malic and tartaric acids. They are good for infections of the intestine, constipation, fatigue, hypertension, rheumatism, bronchial diseases, coughs and cholesterol etc etc…..
Our native crab apple is easily overlooked in woodlands as is often found singularly. The true native has long pointed thorns and a rather shrubby untidy appearance which is why it bears the name crab from the Norse word skrab meaning ‘scrubby’.
However its presence is known in the autumn when you will often notice copious amounts of small bitter apples upon the tree and ground. The crab apple however is not to be dismissed by the seeker of better tastes as we must remember this tree is the ancestor of all cultivated apples and still the rootstock to which the grafts of cultivated apples are made. Crab apples also make a wonderful jelly when mixed with rowan berries.
In the spring it is also more easily noticed with its wonderful display of pink blossom which exudes a perfume at night to attract insects, not unlike honeysuckle.
Archangels (Lamiums) Red archangel ( Lamium purpurea) White archangel ( L.album) Henbit archangel ( L.amplexicaule) Yellow archangel ( Lamiastrum galeobdolon)
Raise your spirits
Jonathon Huet 2012 ©
A delightful selection of plants often known as dead nettles as their leaves resemble the nettle but have no sting. I prefer the name archangel which seems more deserving and refers to the fact they are still in flower on Archangel Michael’s Day ( 29th September)- michaelmas.
Archangels grow on cultivated and waste land. The yellow species ( considered less herbal although can be used) tends to grow on heavy spoils of wood and hedgerow and differs from the others with its more robust aerial shoots. The white is unknown in more natural habitats and seems to crop up around early Norman sites– was it introduced as food? The red and white can both be added to salads or cooked as a vegetable, once eaten by humans and prepared as pig food.
As a tea the plant is uplifting and as a healer can aid green wounds, ulcers, bruises, burns and ‘draweth’ splinters. It has also been said it can be used magically to protect cattle and as a guardian against black magic and evil spirits.
I believe it has a gentle energy aiding the transformation that the apple tree brings whilst helping us face those difficult times.
Qualities of Vine
Muin is a tree vine, highest of beauty.
Highest of beauty, strongest of effort, back of man or ox for they are strongest in regards to effort.
Pack of wolves with spears, three Vines.
Condition of slaughter.
Book of Ballymote 1391
Suggested story to research: The five sacred trees of Ireland
Vine unites, brings together an accumulation of knowledge linking the missing parts and unwavering commitment to seek the truth.
Vine Fact File
Vine Muin (Ogham) Grape vine Vitis (Latin) Bramble Rubus fruticosus (Latin) Traveller’s joy Clematis vitalba ( Latin)
The grape vine was a plant revered by the ancient Celts as well as the Romans growing much better in the warmer areas of Europe such as Spain or France than in Britain. The fruit, of course, is known for the making of exquisite wines but also its leaves have many nutritional and medicinal qualities. They can be used as a poultice for wounds and inflammations and eaten raw provide valuable vitamins and minerals as well as being good for calming nerves, skin conditions and a tonic for the blood. The ash of its burned branches provided toothpaste as bracken ash would have done in Britain.
Grape vines have been cultivated here to varying degrees of success but I would like to look at native vines that clamber through the trees of a British woodland.
The first climber I would like to note is the Bramble, a plant that seems to be cursed and blessed in equal measures. Although weeding it can be a constant back breaking job, a British late summer without the fruit would be tragic. A delicious wine can also be made from blackberries as well as wonderful jams and pies etc etc….
Traditionally we are advised not to eat the fruit after Michaelmas day (29th Sept) as the devil spits on them. This is routed in the fact that a flesh fly sucks the juice of the fruit, its saliva turning the fruit mushy and insipid.
The Bramble, to which there are over 2000 micro species, is a plant which colonises land easily protecting tree saplings and seeds which will eventually grow through the bramble to create a new woodland habitat; this process can take as little as thirty years and without needing the huge financial input of labour and materials which tree planting requires. In the meantime wildlife is supported by this common which is home to many invertebrates including the shield bug ( which offers its own life to protect its young) and moth caterpillars.
Another native climber is our native clematis which has been given such delightful folk names such as old man’s beard or travellers’ joy. John Gerard (16th century botanist) described it as ‘decking and adorning ways and hedges where people travel.’ Its white or greenish flowers are displayed in the spring followed by distinctive white furry seeds which could be used as tinder. The bark of this plant is also excellent tinder as well as being ideal to make natural rope. The fresh twigs contain sap which can cause irritation and ulcers on the skin. The dried stems have been smoked by young boys giving it the name of ‘boy’s bacci’.
The vine is associated with great effort as it puts forth its tendrils and climbs our largest trees clamouring through the highest canopy. This is a symbol of the self effort we must put forth to reach our goals, bringing together concepts and ideals and teaching them to others.
Clover Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) White Clover (T.alba)
Flow of nectar
Give to earth
Jonathon Huet 2012 ©
Clover is a wonderful feature of our meadows and indeed many grass areas both in the countryside and urban areas. It is one of the first plants to produce the ‘main flow’ nectar for bees and other invertebrates after the Dandelion and Sycamore have finished flowering. Its delicate scent attracts long-tongued flies, butterflies, moths and as already mentioned bees. Once the flowers have been fertilised they fold down over their young pods and the flower untouched, still standing, is referred to as an old maid.
Both the leaves and flowers of this plant can be eaten unless it is high in prussic acid which makes it bitter and unsuitable for consumption. It can also be used as a green compost for vegetable growers as it is able to fix nitrogen and therefore enrich the soil. Organic farmers ( and indeed other growers) simply dig or rotavate the plant back into the soil. It is also good animal fodder.
As a herb Clover flowers are traditionally used as a syrup for coughs especially whopping cough and help to purify the blood. To help relieve bronchial or irritating coughs a brew of flowers can be made by steeping them in hot water for about 8 minutes and it tastes great! It is also been said to be good for liver ailments and smoked in a pipe for toothache. Today we tend to use the red clover for medicinal cures although other species can also be used.
Clover is steeped in folklore, a candidate for the Irish Shamrock or Seamrog. This mythical plant brings great fortune to all who use it and either is thought to be the white clover or more likely the lesser trefoil (Latin).
It seems to be the quantity of leaves borne on clover which dictates its magical use.
Qualities of Ivy
Greenest of pastures is Ivy.
Greener than grasses, sweeter than pastures due to it’s associations with cornfields.
Pleasing oil, corn.
Size of a warrior.
Book of Ballymote 1391
Suggested story to research: The birth of Robin Hood
Ivy warns us if difficult times approach but also to rise above them and search for the ultimate truth through a more focused approach without restricting and binding us to any one concept.
Ivy Fact File
Ivy Hedera helix ( Latin) Gort (Ogham) Honeysuckle Lonicera periclymenum ( Latin) Woodbine (Folk name)
To love Ivy or not seems to be a big question, it seems to have a sinister deadly reputation alongside a positive deeply loved one.
‘Gort’ its Gaelic Ogham name originally meant ‘green field’ and early Celtic nature poetry speaks of its enduring quality, growing green and fresh amongst the highest canopies of the trees. Further works associate ivy with pleasing oil and sweet grasses, a plant that warns us of dangers and gives us direction and insight.
Ivy became a Christmas decoration hung on doors, beams and fire places protecting the house from malicious spirits that cause havoc at this time. In Scotland Ivy was said to protect cattle and their milk from harm and in Shropshire cups were made from the lower stems of ivy which were used to give milk to infants and therefore protect them from whooping cough.
However the other side of ivy cannot be denied as early scholars describe it as ‘size of a warrior’ as its thin wiry stems grow into trunks and climb to the greatest heights. Does it restrict, bind and suffocate its host? As early as the 3rd Century BC Theophastrus declared ivy an evil plant that harmed its host, yet the latest research has backed the romantic Celtic poets and the later Bishop Munt of the eighteenth century who praised it with great devotion. The research has shown ivy will only grow on large canopy trees and dominate them when they are already dying back even demonstrating that if the tree should recover the ivy will pull back therefore proving a harmonious symbiotic relationship with its host!
Our ancestors could not deny the incredible tenacious, raw survival qualities of ivy. It was used as a penalty for the farmer bringing in the last harvest as it was bond around a figurine given to the farmer as a symbol of ill luck. The ivy girl of folklore was a shrewish wife, a meddlesome women causing trouble.
The ivy that I truly love has autumn greenish-yellow flowers that secrete an abundance of nectar pollinated by wasps and flies etc… Birds feed upon the late berries when food is scarce and especially the holly blue butterfly caterpillars feed upon its leaves.
Medicinally a brew of fresh leaves boiled in vinegar will soothe a stitch or headache and the leaves freshly picked can be used to clean wounds and sores. The leaves and berries powdered can be used as a snuff for blocked noses and stuffy heads.
In Celtic lore ivy is interchangeable with honeysuckle also known as woodbine. A climber that is very much celebrated with its nectar rich trumpet-like flowers which exude a scent on summer evenings. Its leaves are amongst the first to appear in the woodland scene sometimes as early as December. If honeysuckle is brought into the house it is said a wedding will follow and placed in a girl’s bedroom will bring dreams of love.
Samuel Pepys, a 17th Century diarist called honeysuckle the trumpet flower whose bugles blow scent instead of sound. Shakespeare recognizes the plants ability to reach for the sun whilst casting shade with its dense foliage when he states ‘ Honeysuckle ripened by the sun, forbid the sun to enter…’
Honeysuckle flowers can be used to help headaches, lung diseases and asthma.
Ground Ivy Glechoma hederacea
Jonathon Huet 2012 ©
This common plant brightens up woodland glades and grasslands with its large mauve flowers.
It is probably most well known for its use as an alternative to hops in the brewing of ales. Up until the 1500s it was used in brewing to clear the fermenting liquid and add a sharp flavour. This beverage was known as gill-ale and unlike most ales was reputed to clear the head effectively often within 24 hours. Jonathon Swift (1767) is quoted as remarking on this drink.
Like many of our common plants ground ivy is overlooked and yet has a long impressive history of use.
Traditionally ground ivy is infused often with nettle to make what is known as ‘gill tea’. Every spring children from Warwickshire drank this bitter tea for nine days for good health.
This tea not only can help soothe the stomach including griping pains, coughs and chest disorders it also will help clear mucous membranes and as an inhalant help colds, coughs and respiratory complaints. The dried leaves can be used as a snuff and the herb can clear up skin complaints, bind wounds and draw out splinters.
Qualities of Broom
nGetal, Fern or Broom.
A physicians strength, broom.
Beginning of heroic deeds, healing.
Robe of physicians.
Book of Ballymote 1391
Suggested story to research: Dianecht and Miach
Broom is the healer, a time to soak yourself in a bath of healing herbs, nourish yourself and tidy up your life both externally and internally. Use broom to make a clean sweep.
Broom Fact File
Broom Ngetal (Gaelic Ogham name) Cytisus scoparius ( Latin)
Broom today seems to escape notice and yet seems to have a very key role in the Celtic Tree Ogham for healing.
The Irish deities connected to healing are Dianecht, his daughter Airmed and son Miach. In a jealous rage Dianecht kills Miach and it is said 365 herbs appeared where Miach was buried positioned on the parts of his body they would cure. Airmed collected them to preserve the knowledge but Dianecht destroyed them thus taking away the higher knowledge of healing and herbs forever! This story is centred around the story of the first battle of Moytura where a great well is prepared with healing herbs and in the later Fenian stories of Ireland the Druid Caolite prepares herbal baths to uplift the wives left behind when their husbands go to war.
Broom also seems to have been a key plant in Celtic times due to its bright yellow flowers that come forth about the time of Beltaine. In the Welsh poem ‘Cad Goddeu’ or ‘Battle of Trees’ Balor appears masked as broom and is depicted as a solar hero rather like Beli who Beltaine is said to be named after. Balor lives in a great castle with his daughter Floripar which means born of a flower rather like the stories of Yspaddeden Pencawr and Olwen also in Welsh lore discussed under Hawthorn.
This connection seems to connect broom yet again to the flora and maybe the healing wells and herbal baths of our ancestors.
The yellow flowers of broom, like hawthorn perhaps also depicted the time to break the winter camp when our ancestors lived a more nomadic live. Broom is also the plant used to make brooms as it has ideal stiff yet flexible foliage. These two facts point to broom as a plant of new beginnings, of a clean sweep and when we examine the two Ogham letters that represent broom we notice the combination of N for Nion, the ash tree and G for Gort the ivy plant. Combined these letters tell us broom is about breaking free from lethargy ( represented by the ash tree) and the inevitable back lash (represented by ivy) that will result from that. Broom therefore is a great plant to clean up problems of an especially emotional or spiritual nature encouraging us to outwardly demonstrate this by cleaning our living spaces especially where we sleep and/or meditate.
Medicinally the young branches or seeds of broom can relief gout, sciatica and painful joints though are liable to cause vomiting. The oil from the stems of broom drawn out over the fire is said to relive toothache and help clean the head of parasites and the skin of parasites like lice.
Ngetal can also represent reed, fern and guelder rose also known as water elder which can cause some confusion.
Bugle Ajuga reptans
A thousand armies
Protector of sorrows
Jonathon Huet 2012 ©
In the Spring bugle stands upright like an army advancing to the battlefield and is associated with healing all types of wounds one may acquire on the battlefield such as thrusts, stabs and even broken bones. Bugle has also been used to soothe ulcers and help the trembling’s of excess drinking.
Culpepper advices us to always have a syrup of bugle handy and especially to take it at night between the months of May and July. It is reputed to be one of the mildest and best narcotics and also has been used for arresting internal haemorrhages. It can be used as a herb in a similar way to self-heal which I have included below due to their similar properties.
Bugle grows in woodlands and damp meadows flowering in May.
Self heal Prunella vulgaris
Folk names: Hook– heal Sickly-wort Carpenter’s herb.
Self heal survives well in grasslands, waste spaces and more open woodlands. A close cut lawn in summer can look beautiful with the purple flowers of self heal to enliven the otherwise monoculture sward. There is a rarer species known as the cut-leaved self heal ( Prunella laciniata) which has cut leaves and white flowers.
Both the Latin and common name of this plant point to its continued use as a herb. Prunella or Brunella is the German name for a sore throat. Dioscorides knew of the plant’s use for sore throats and treated inflammations of the throat and tonsils with this plant.
Its common name self heal implies an obvious connation to medicinal usage. In the doctrines of signatures( the concept that every plant has a signature that implies its use), the flower of this plant is said to resemble a hook and as in the past the most common wounds were from billhooks and sickles this implied its use to stanch bleeding.
self heal does staunch bleeding effectively and is also used for internal bleeding as a syrup or as a tea.
It is also used for respiratory complaints, piles and in Ireland to treat heart trouble. It is less known as a cure for colds.
Qualities of Blackthorn
Hedge of a stream is Blackthorn
Careful effort, strongest of red, Sloe which gives strong red dye on metal.
An arrows mist, smoking drifting from the fire.
Increasing of secrets.
Book of Ballymote 1391
Suggested story to research: First battle of Moytora
Now it is time to accept your fate not to fight against the inevitable. It is the Ogham of mysteries of contemplating and accepting death. Blackthorn protects you from external influences enabling you to go deep within.
Blackthorn Fact File
Blackthorn Straif (Gaelic Ogham) Prunus spinosa ( Latin)
Blackthorn like broom is also represented by two letters in the Celtic Tree Ogham. The first letter is S which represents willow and the second D or T which are interchangeable in the system as oak or holly.
Blackthorn in the legends seems to represent the warriors death ( meaning of W for willow) in service to others ultimately the king or queen of the land ( meaning of D or T for oak or holly). The warrior welcomed death seeing it as a transition to another world rather than an ending but too truly conquer the fear of death had to prepare spiritually and emotionally forgiving both themselves and others.
Blackthorn invites us to contemplate our death and what it means, to understand the mysteries!
Warriors were said to have trained with thorns and the hedge of blackthorn represents the barrier of raised spears in the shield war. However it was not just the men who fought in that shield war but the women too and often the warrior’s training was conducted by famous women warriors such as Scathach, Aillill and Bodhnall.
The mysteries were thought to be guarded by powerful women such as the baleful Cailleach or death crone who is a hag with only one arm, one leg and an upper tooth long enough to use as a crutch. She is the keeper of the cauldron of rebirth and re-members the corpse to bring it back to life in the bright otherworld. The power of the mysteries is also reflected in the Wyrd Sisters of Anglo Saxon lore who spin the fate of us all.
Blackthorn is known therefore as the ‘increaser and keeper of dark secrets’ and due to misunderstanding can be given a sinister reputation connected to witches. Witches are said to use the Blackthorn to create malevolent wands and carved sticks called ‘black rods’ were said to induce miscarriages and harm others. Further associations include blackthorn wood for burning witches, its thorns for discovering the devil’s mark on witches and its use as a crown of thorns on Jesus’s head.
Thorn trees take centre stage in stories such as sleeping beauty and in a Scottish tale a thicket is created to protect King Eirinn’s daughter from her father when eloping with her lover. The thicket therefore is a form of protection and hiding and in other stories an escape from giants!
Hawthorn and Blackthorn are seen as sisters often called May and Black having similar roles with their thorns and delicate blossom. The time of March-April when blackthorn blossoms is often known as the blackthorn hatch, a mild period before the onset of colder and wetter weather. Blackthorn has also been known as the mother of the woods representing fertility and part of wassailing celebrations for apple trees. In the New Year it has been burnt as a fire charm, its ash believed to create a fertile field.
Medicinally Blackthorn berries have been used for ‘fluxes in the belly’ as they are a strong purgative and therefore should be used with caution. The berries can be safely used for the making of sloe gin and added to drinks and jam as ‘bitters’. They juice of the berry can also be used as a marking ink.
Blackthorn wood is dark and hard and can be used for the teeth of rakes, fighting and walking sticks (Merlin’s staff is said to have been blackthorn) and clubs, cudgels or the Shillelagh as the Irish call the traditional cudgel wielded by giants.
Primula species Fact Files ( N.B. Kennings refer to Cowslip, the main focus)
Jonathon Huet 2012 ©
Cowslip Primula verris Primrose Primula vulgaris Oxslip P.elatoir False oxslip P x polythana
Bird’s-eye primsose P. farinosa Scots Primrose P.scotica
Banks and hedgerows brightened by cowslips and primroses is surely one of the most uplifting signs of spring arriving. The word ‘Primula’ means ‘first rose’ which is an adapt name for this delicate-looking yet hardy plant.
Primrose represents a delicate love and is said to have been used for love potions. Shakespeare writes ‘ pale primroses that die unmarried