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A Witch's Garden
by Carla Allen
by Carla Allen

Greetings from Nova Scotia!

Carla Allen has been gardening for the past 25 years, co-owned a nursery in southwestern Nova Scotia for 16 years.

Carla has an extensive image library and nurtures a network of horticulture in the region. She was the first president of the Yarmouth Garden Club.

October 31, 2010

Hallowe'en will be upon us shortly and there are bound to be witches about. I'm fascinated by stories associated with witches, fairies, sorcerer's and such, as I'm sure are many others. Let me rush to add that I certainly don't condone "black magic" or the practise of evil witchcraft. Nevertheless I have great respect for the physical powers of some of the plants I'm about to describe.

What might a witch's garden of yore contained? Poisonous or narcotic plants are naturally connected with witchcraft. Atropa belladonna or Deadly Nightshade is perhaps one of the most notorious. This plant is also known by the names of devil's herb or devil's cherry because of its shiny black fruit. It was taken by those who wished to foretell the future and was also used as a shape changer. On Walpurgis (the witch's sabbath), this devil's herb is supposed to change into a lovely but deadly enchantress.

During the Renaissance, Italian ladies used the juices of this plant to make their complexions luminous and to dilate their pupils. Rouge was made from the berries. Taken internally the drug have them what was considered a desirable spaciness; hence the name belladonna, or beautiful lady. Deadly Nightshade is only hardy to Zone 6, grows three feet high with alternate leaves and has bell shaped purple flowers. I've never seen it growing locally, however I have seen Woody nightshade (Solanum dulcamera) incorrectly referred to as bittersweet, growing on several properties. This particular nightshade grows in a vine-like manner and has clusters of star shaped purple flowers followed by scarlet fruit in the fall. It, like Deadly nightshade, is poisonous.

Monkshood is a great perennial for the fall with its cowl shaped purple flowers and dark green shiny foliage. This shade tolerant plant is also known by the name of wolfbane. Arrows dipped in this poisonous herb would kill wolves. The witches brew in Macbeth calls for "tooth of wolf" and is referring to monkshood. In Romeo and Juliet, belladonna is given to Juliet so that she will sleep but appear to be dead. Romeo, fearing that she was indeed dead took monkshood and perished. For those wishing to rise up in the world - Monkshood is a popular ingredient in flying potions.

The innocent looking, very common, periwinkle (Vinca) has a history of use in witchcraft too. It's been called the devil's eye or sorcerer's violet and was used in wreaths that hung from the necks of felons on their way to the gallows. But it was also used as a countercharm against evil spirits. Culpeper, a famous herbalist, said that if the leaves are eaten together by a husband and wife it will cause love between them. Hemlock is symbolic of death by poisoning. However the plant you're probably thinking of isn't the one responsible. Hemlock (Tsuga) is a graceful evergreen that grows easily in many parts of Canada. The Hemlock (Conium) associated with witches is a biennual herb with large parsley like leaves. It has white flowers similar to Queen Anne's Lace and is sometimes called "poison parsley."

If you're concerned about witchcraft ever affecting your loved ones in the future, make sure you have a few juniper trees planted by your doorstep. Witches are bound by all their laws to count every last needle of a juniper tree before they enter a house to work their evil. If they make a mistake they have to start counting all over again. Have you ever tried counting all the needles on a juniper bush? Naturally, almost all of the time, they end up flying off in a rage. Holly bushes are also great. They're considered very holy and both the leaves and berries can be used for protection against demons, witches and the evil eye.

The Mountain Ash tree, with its colourful plates of red berries has been valued through history as the "Rowan" tree. In the Scottish highlands Rowan trees are a common sight on the ruins of old settlements where they were believed to protect the inhabitants from witchcraft. The common name for the tree -Rowan, is derived from the old Norse word "ron" meaning "rune" as the Norsemen carved their runic alphabet on tablets of Rowan as well as stone. So rest easy if you have a few Mountain Ash on the property.

Lay in some other herbs known for their protective powers against evil like Angelica, Dill, Rosemary and Caraway and you should be all set. Oh, yeah, don't forget the Garlic. Just in case.


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