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A Long Row To Hoe©

(A Gardener's Letters )
by Ken Beattie
by Ken Beattie


Ken Beattie has hosted a number of gardening-related programs for WTN.

Ken is currently working with the Canadian Wildlife Federation and is also the author of an informative gardening book series.

August 17, 2008

Dear Sis,
I suppose, it is quite philosophical to discuss the fact that without plants, no human or other life forms would even exist. This may well be the basis for reverence and the association of magic with all the plant world. Plants have always played a leading role in many rituals, healing and folklore. I fact, I have learned that throughout history, plants have been associated with gender, perhaps to celebrate a goddess or a god of nature, or simple because it was easier to categorize the plants in accordance with human kind. Some herbs and uncommon plants had apparent connections with the solar entities of the sun, moon and named stares of the time. As in ancient Greek, Roman and Egyptian mythology, this celestial interaction was associated and deeply rooted in the local plant life.
Now, Sis, I am not expecting that you cavort about your moon garden in flowing robes with a broom stick parked and idling by the mugwort, but there are a great many plants that have, well let us just say, interesting abilities. Some of the goddesses venerated in a previous time had herbs associated with them. Special ceremonies and days of the week and year were set aside to pay homage to these natural deities. Artemis for example, is identified with Mugwort , Myrtle and the common daisy. As a matter of fact, in botanical terms, Mugwort is identified as Artemisia, a namesake for the goddess. In history, Artemisia was the wife of a Persian King, Mausolus. She ruled after his death in 353 B.C. One of the seven ancient wonders of the world was a tomb she had built in his honor called a mausoleum. Her abilities as a ruler were only eclipsed by her botanical knowledge. As a matter of fact, there are over 200 plants named in her honor, most of them aromatic. I suspect also, that because so many of this herbal tribe have silvery foliage, they reflect moonlight and give a rather curious look to the night garden. Superstitious or nature worshiping folk would most likely use this plant as symbolic of energy.
In a pre-Christian incantation titled "Lay of the Nine Herbs" , mugwort, or mother of all herbs predominates. If you feel the need Sis, apparently this incantation is known to ward off snakebite or cure a nasty nip, expel worms (not the garden variety) and wet your whistle after a long day of weeding. It goes as follows (perhaps with a wee jig or at best a shuffle on the patio stones):

"Have in mind, Mugwort, what you made known, What you laid down, at the great denouncing. Una your name is, the oldest of herbs, Of might against venom and the onflying, Of might against the vile She who fares through the land".
Once finished this canticle, you could always pick a bunch of Mugwort and use it to stuff a roast goose.... I fail to see any connection however!
Artemisia in general are extremely easily grown and should not be overlooked for the Prairie garden. They prefer drier soils and are not particular of pH. Well draining mixes allow Mugwort to perform at peak, however, they prefer a little more water than their sisters and will tolerate some shade too. These characters are not great neighbors in the garden with fennel, sage, caraway, anis and most of the other culinary herbs. Quel surprise! Artemisia have such a strong constitution, that rain water washes foliar toxins out and they affect all surrounding vegetation. Hence the suggestion that this is a powerful herb. They do rather well in containers or in a portion of the back garden, where they can thrive undisturbed and be kept in check. You will find that they perform better if the year's foliage is removed in the fall. Perhaps on the eve of October 31st?
Now in the boy's change room, the god Horus from Egyptian records, has the Horehound associated with him. There is much magic aligned with this ancient plant, but more as the antidote to bad magic. The Egyptians called this plant "seeds of Horus", "bull's blood" or "eye of the star" and used it predominantly as a cough remedy and to break magical spells. The popularity of this constant or perennial plant flowed into the Middle Ages from the Hebrew as the name "marob" which means bitter juice. Actually the botanical handle attached to this plant is based on the Hebrew, it is now know as Marrubium vulgare. The name Horehound is a derivation from the old English har hune, meaning hairy or downy plant. This is most apt because horehound is very fuzzy indeed. It surprises me to think that the ancient peoples associated cough remedies with a hairy plant. I can't imagine swallowing a hair ball of horehound to cure a throat tickle...yuk! Perhaps it was the magical association that gave it first billing. Once again, like Artemisia, this plant looks spectacular under the light of the moon, silver, fuzzy leaves dancing in the wind. Caution should be exercised when choosing a location for this plant,. It grows about 18 inches tall and is rather spindly and brittle. Prairie winds can mow a crop of horehound down before you can say A la kazam! Ideally suited for cottage country, this perennial herb enjoys drier, alkaline soil conditions.... sound like a spot you may have ? The strongest oils are produced when the plant is grown in full sun and reach two years old. Grown from seed sown in late spring outdoors or softwood cuttings taken in the summer, these clumps resembling botanical dust bunnies are delightful. Although, it might be a better idea to attempt to find a supplier of the herb so as not to appear to be rivaling Buckley's® cough medicine with a field of seedling Horehounds. If you wish, you can harvest the leaves and flowers to dry and make into cough candies or simply to invigorate a pot pourri.
Remember sitting in church as a wee girl Sis, and the woman in front of you was wearing what appeared to road kill of several furry critters around her neck? Well, her husband, the man who smelled like moth balls, had in his pockets were, what I thought was the mother load of candies.... little squarish things called humbugs. Guess what they were made of...? Yes that's it.... Horehound. Do you think it was to keep the tickle in his throat at bay or were they a magical talisman to keep those critters around his wife's neck asleep? Ah yes, what answers are out there!
Write soon Sis, I am keen to know how you made out with your manure tea.

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