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Herbs of the Sun, Moon and Planets
By Steve Andrews
John Hunt Publishing Ltd.Copyright © 2015 Steve Andrews
All rights reserved.
Herbs of the Sun
The Sun is at the centre of the solar system in which our planet is also located and gives light to all the planets it can reach. It has long been worshipped and thought of as the source of all life and as Father Sun. It is the light-giver that with its rays illuminates all it shines on. Without it, life could not survive. Its keywords are power, vitality and self-expression.
Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis/Chamaemelum nobile)
Chamomile is a herb of the Sun that besides liking to grow in sunny places has white petals that surround its yellow centre and can be likened to the Sun's rays. It is an aromatic perennial plant with a creeping habit and finely-cut feathery leaves. Chamomile comes from Europe, but is widely distributed in North America and grown in herb gardens in many parts of the world.
It has a long history of usage both as a medicinal herb and for cosmetic purposes. William Turner, in his Newe Herball (1551), declared: 'Thys herbe was consecrated by the wyse men of Egypt unto the Sonne and was rekened to be the only remedy for allagues.' According to Mrs M. Grieve in her A Modern Herbal: 'The old herbals agree that 'it is but lost time and labour to describe it." It was known in times gone by as the 'Plant's Physician'.
The Ancient Greeks called it 'Earth Apple', and its generic name is derived from kamai, which means 'on the ground' and melon, meaning Apple. Indeed, the herb has an Apple-like aroma when lightly crushed.
The Anglo Saxons knew Chamomile as 'Maythen' and it was one of the sacred herbs of Woden. According to the Lacnunga, in the Harleian manuscript collection of the British Museum, it was included in the Nine Herbs Lay, a charm against the effects of 'lying venom' and 'loathed things that over land rove.
In herbal medicine Chamomile is used for its soothing and sedative properties. Taken as a herb tea it is good for indigestion, nausea, to promote a good night's sleep and is helpful for painful menstruation. Ointments made with Chamomile are used to treat skin complaints such as eczema. As a steam inhalation, the herb is regarded as a remedy for sinusitis and asthma. The dried flowers are added to herbal pillows to help fight insomnia and also included in pot-pourri. An infusion of the flowers is used to help lighten blonde hair and as a skin freshener. The whole Chamomile herb can be used to make a herbal beer.
The herbalist Parkinson wrote in his Earthly Paradise (1656):
Camomil is put to divers and sundrey users, both for pleasure and profit, both for the sick and the sound, in bathing to comfort and strengthen the sound and to ease pains in the diseased.
Chamomile lawns are popular in ornamental gardens because of their fragrance. The plant is often included in herb gardens too.
Eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis)
Eyebright is a herb of the Sun that, as its name suggests, is recommended for treating the eyes. Its tiny white flowers have a yellow centre with darker purple ray markings and perhaps this is why it was associated with the Sun. It was the Doctrine of Signatures though that saw a likeness between this herb and the organ used for sight. It was thought that the markings in the flower resembled a bloodshot eye.
Its scientific name Euphrasia means 'gladness' and this is thought to have been bestowed upon this herb because of the joy felt if an eyesight problem was cured by its use. Hildegard of Bingen in her Physica, compiled circa 1150, recommended it as a herb to treat eye complaints. Fuchs and Dodoens did likewise in the 16century when they also listed it as a herb to treat eye problems with.
Eyebright was known to the poets Spenser and Milton as the Euphrasy. Milton wrote that the Archangel Michael used it when ministering to Adam after the Fall: '... to nobler sights Michael from Adam's eyes the film removed, Then purged with euphrasine and rue, His visual orbs for he had much to see.'
Eyebright is an annual semi-parasitic herb found growing in grassland and grassy places on heaths and in sand dunes. It has a liking for poor soils and attaches itself to the roots of grasses, from which it then absorbs nutrients. If it is transplanted into a garden it will only grow if surrounded by grass. Eyebright is found in many parts of the UK, Europe, Siberia and the Himalayas.
Eyebright is gathered in full flower in July and August. The whole plant is dried and used to make infusions that are used to treat sore and itchy eyes as eyewash. The herb is used the same way as a remedy for conjunctivitis. It has definite anti-inflammatory properties and this makes it useful for treating hayfever, rhinitis, sinusitis and catarrh. It is taken as a weak infusion three to four times daily for these ailments and also for jaundice and abdominal spasms. Eyebright is an ingredient in British Herbal Tobacco, which has been smoked as a remedy for bronchial infections.
In Iceland Eyebright has also been used a treatment for the eyes, and the Highlanders of Scotland made an infusion of the herb in milk, which was then applied to inflamed eyes with the use of a feather that was dipped into the liquid.
Culpeper gave details of an eye lotion containing the herb:
An Excellent Water to Clear the Sight.
Take of Fennel, Eyebright, Roses, white, Celandine, Vervain and Rue, of each a handful, the liver of a Goat chopt small, infuse them well in Eyebright Water, then distil them in an alembic, and you shall have a water will clear the sight beyond comparison.
Juniper (Juniperus communis)
The Juniper is an evergreen small tree with reddish bark and is a herb of the Sun. It has spiky needles and male and female flowers on separate plants. The female ones are in the form of small green cones that eventually ripen after as long as two or three years into blue-black 'berries'. The Juniper comes from Europe, Scandinavia, North America and Asia and grows on mountains, heaths and scrubland with poor and chalky soils. It is also frequently grown in parks and gardens for its ornamental value.
The ancient Egyptians are said to have used Juniper in the process of the embalming of their dead and also for magical and medicinal purposes. Juniper incense is believed to repel evil and to help purify the air as well as driving away disease. Since Biblical times it has been seen as a herb of protection. 'Elijah went a day's journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a Juniper tree.' (1 Kings 19:4) It is associated with justice and the truth. The god Pan and the Greek avenging Furies are also linked with this herb. If smoked, Juniper is said to have mild hallucinogenic properties.
Culpeper recommended Juniper as 'a counter-poison, resister of the pestilence and excellent against the biting of venomous beasts.' In herbal medicine it has been used to treat rheumatism, gout, arthritis and digestive disorders. It has antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and diuretic properties.
Juniper berries are used to add flavour to pickles, chutneys and sauces. It is the main flavouring in gin and is also brewed into a health-giving beer in Sweden. Oil of Juniper is also used in perfumes and cosmetics.
Mistletoe (Viscum album)
Mistletoe is a strange semi-parasitic plant that grows on various trees and derives much of the nutrients it needs by sucking these out of its host's trunk or branches. Having this unusual habit and growing between the sky and the earth made it of especial importance to the Druids and it is one of their most sacred and magical herbs. Mistletoe is found in some parts of the UK and also in Europe, Asia and North Africa. It can be easily seen in winter when the trees have lost their leaves and its evergreen clumps are made conspicuous. Mistletoe is distributed by birds that eat the berries and wipe their beaks and its sticky seeds on the branches of trees.
Its association with the Sun is because it was traditionally harvested by the Druids at Winter Solstice when it was cut down with a golden sickle with one stroke of the blade. The Mistletoe and the sickle represented the energies of the Sun and Moon, and the Druid responsible for cutting it would stand on one leg with one arm raised above him and one eye closed. This was to symbolise the between worlds association of the sacred herb, which was caught on a white cloth below to prevent it reaching the land and grounding its vital energies. It was the 'Golden Bough' of the Druids and was also mentioned in the Aeneid by the poet Virgil as the plant that the hero Aeneas had to remove in order to be able to enter Hades, the Underworld.
Mrs M. Grieve, in A Modern Herbal, informs us that:
... the curious basket of garland with which 'Jack-in-the-Green' is even now occasionally invested on May-day is said to be a relic of a similar garb assumed by the Druids for the ceremony of the Mistletoe.
She further tells us that, once they had found it, they danced around the Oak tree to the tune of Hey Derry Down, Down, Down, Derry! In Herefordshire, some Oak woods are still referred to as 'the Derry'.
Although Mistletoe grows on many trees including Apple, Hawthorn, Poplar and Ash, it was regarded as particularly magical and sacred if found on the Oak. This was the most important tree to the ancient Druids and its Celtic name 'Duir' provided the root of both 'Druid' and 'door'. The white sticky berries were thought of as the semen of the Oak tree and this caused the plant to be associated with love and fertility rituals. Its scientific name Viscum album echoes this because it translates as 'Sticky white'. Today the fertility association is still remembered with the traditional custom in the Yuletide season of kissing under the Mistletoe. It has also become considered a herb of 'love and peace'.
Besides being a herb of the Sun, Mistletoe is also ruled by Jupiter, and is associated with the deities Apollo, Balder, Cerridwen, Frigga, Freya, Odin and Venus. It is known as 'All Heal', 'Birdlime', 'Devil's Fuge', 'Herbe de la Croix', 'Holy Wood', 'Lignum Crucis', 'Mystyldene', 'Witch's Broom' and 'Wood of the Cross' as alternative names.
Mistletoe was once regarded as a panacea and this is why it became known as 'All Heal'. The whole plant is harvested. In herbal medicine it has been used for its diuretic and narcotic properties. Mistletoe has been employed as a remedy for high blood pressure, arthritis and epilepsy or 'falling sickness', as it used to be known. Sir John Colbatch published a pamphlet entitled The Treatment of Epilepsy by Mistletoe in 1720. In Sweden it was once believed that sufferers from epilepsy could prevent attacks by carrying with them a knife made with an Oak Mistletoe handle.
It has tonic properties and is useful as a treatment for spasms. Mistletoe contains histamine, choline, tyramine, viscotoxin and, as its name suggests, the last-named substance is poisonous if too much is taken. Because of its potentially toxic nature the herb should only be used under medical supervision or as prescribed by an experienced herbal medicine practitioner.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Rosemary is a well-known evergreen shrub that is under the dominion of the Sun's ruling. It is highly aromatic and has its uses both for its scent as well as for its medicinal properties, and it is used in the kitchen too. Rosemary is possibly a herb of the Sun because of its liking for sunny locations. It comes from the Mediterranean coastal areas and hillsides, but is cultivated throughout the world in herb gardens.
Rosemary has small pale purplish-blue tubular flowers and its woody branches are covered in needle-like dark-green foliage. It will readily grow into quite large bushes and reach 2 metres in height.
The name Rosemary comes from the Latin Rosmarinus, meaning 'Dew of the Sea'. It has been a popular herb since Greek and Roman times and gained a reputation for being good for the memory and for uplifting the spirits. Bancke's Herbal (1525) has a long list of uses and superstitions associated with it. Anyone putting it under the bed will be 'delivered of all evill dreames'. This herbal also recommends that Rosemary should be boiled in wine as a cosmetic face-wash and that it can be bound to the legs as a treatment for gout. In Spanish folklore it is believed that Rosemary is a protection against the evil eye, and further that it once gave shelter to the Virgin Mary when its flowers took on the blue of her cloak. In Spain and Italy it is regarded as a protectionfrom witchcraft and evil forces.
Rosemary leaves and flowering tops are the parts used, and are dried for use in cookery and in herbal medicine. The essential oil of the herb is distilled from the leaves. Rosemary can be added sparingly as a flavouring for meat and savoury dishes and in vinegar and dressings. Infusions of the herb are employed as rinses for dry hair and as a remedy for dandruff. The essential oil is used in the perfumery and cosmetic industries and the leaves can be added to pot-pourri. It was once used in place of incense and the ancients used it in religious ceremonies and rituals.
Rosemary has antiseptic and antibacterial properties and can be taken as a tea for colds, flu, fatigue and headaches. The tincture of the herb is a remedy for depression and anxiety, and as massage oil it is a treatment for rheumatism and muscular aches and pains. Rosemary is an important ingredient in the preparation of Eau-de-Cologne.
Miss Rohde praises Rosemary in Banckes' Herbal:
Take the Timber thereof and burn it to coals and make powder thereof and rubbe they teeth thereof and it shall keep they teeth from all evils. Smell it oft and it shall keep thee youngly.
Also if a man has lost his smelling of the ayre that he may not draw his breath, make a fire of the wood, and bake his bread therewith, eate it and it shall keep him well.
Make thee a box of the wood of Rosemary and smell to it and it shall preserve thy youth.
Rosemary is immortalised in the song Scarborough Fair by Simon and Garfunkel where they sing: 'Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.'
St John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum)
St John's Wort has obvious associations with the Sun with its bright golden-yellow star-like flowers and ability to curedepression and lift the spirits. It is traditionally gathered on St John's Eve in midsummer too, when the Sun is strongest. St John's Wort is a perennial plant that comes from Europe and Asia and is naturalised in America and Australia. It grows in grassy places, hedge-banks and waste places.
St John's Wort is named after John the Baptist and it was believed that the reddish juice that exudes from its crushed flowers symbolised the saint's blood. There are many superstitions about the herb, including the belief that gathering it on St John's Eve with the dew still on it would help the picker find a husband, and if a childless wife gathered it naked, it would help her ensure conception. St John's Wort is also said to be a herb of protection that can drive away ghosts and evil spirits, as well as making sure that thunderbolts and lightning are no danger. Hanging St John's Wort in bunches at midsummer is believed to help ward off evil forces. Hypericum comes from the Greek and means 'over an apparition', referring to the belief that the herb was so powerful that just a whiff of the plant would make an evil spirit leave fast.
In herbal medicine St John's Wort is mainly used as an antidepressant and for combating anxiety and nervous tension. The herbalist Culpeper recommended St John's Wort as follows: 'A tincture of the flowers in spirit of wine is commended against the melancholy and madness.'
It also has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties and has been used externally to treat painful joints and muscular aches. The main active principle in St John's Wort is a substance known as hypericin and this is found in the flowering tops of the plant that are harvested and dried. St John's Wort is taken in the form of an infusion, but can also be made into creams, oils and other preparations. St John's Wort is often sold in capsules and tablet form in health stores where it has been marketed as the 'natural Prozac'. However, St John's Wort was banned in the Republic of Ireland some years ago. The problem is that it can interact with other medication with adverse effects, and in some people it can cause photosensitivity and skin rashes. It should not be used by pregnant women. The plant is also dangerous to livestock that may eat it when grazing.
St John's Wort has many alternative names. It is also known as 'Amber', 'Balm of Warriors', 'Bible Flower', 'Cammock', 'Goat Weed', 'Holy Herb', 'Klamath Weed', 'Penny John', 'Save', 'Sunshine Herb' and 'Tipton Weed'.
Sunflower (Helianthus annuus)
There would be something wrong if the Sunflower wasn't included in the herbs of the Sun and, of course, it is one. This spectacular annual plant can grow as high as 3 metres and bears massive flowers up to 30 centimetres across. It is so well known it hardly needs any description. It is native to North, Central and South America, but is commonly grown as a garden flower around the world and also as a crop. It is thought to have actually originated in Mexico. There are many varieties around today including the attractive cultivar Velvet Queen with brownish-orange flowers. The seeds of the Sunflower are either all-black or are white with black stripes. A single head can produce as many as 1,000 seeds in the central part of the rosette. These seeds are often used to feed captive and wild birds and the plant often springs up in all sorts of places where it has been accidentally sown.
Excerpted from Herbs of the Sun, Moon and Planets by Steve Andrews. Copyright © 2015 Steve Andrews. Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Herbs of the Sun 3
St John's Wort 10
Herbs of the Moon 14
Water Lily 19
Herbs of Mercury 23
Lemon Verbena 26
Herbs of Venus 32
Herbs of Mars 42
Meadow Buttercup 46
Herbs of Jupiter 51
Lime Tree 52
Thorn Apple 58
Herbs of Saturn 61
Morning Glory 67