Category Archives: Useful Plants

Calendula – Say Hello to the Sun!

+ Family / Subfamily: Asteraceae / Asteroideae
+ Tribus: Calenduleae
+ Genus: Calendula
+ Species: Calendula officinalis
+ Names: marigold, pot marigold, Garten-Ringelblume, Bride of the Sun, Goldes, Holigolde, Husbandman’s Dial, Marybud, Ruddes, Ruddles, Spousa Solis, Summer’s Bride, Sonnenwend, Todtenblume

The flowers of pot marigold mirror the sun – their radiant petals shine in bright yellow or orange colors from spring to late autumn. According to folk belief, simply looking at them does strengthen the sight. Their magic is – naturally – of the sun and the element fire. Calendula petals added to the bath water create a magical shield and help winning respect and admiration from other people.

The flowers are also perfect for the game “he/she loves me, he/she loves me not” (originally effeuiller la marguerite in French). Though plucking the flower is said to conjure thunderstorms! The flowers were also used in divining one’s future lover: the flower petals were dried with other summer herbs, then ground and made into a salve with honey and vinegar. Young women would then apply the salve before sleep and call upon St. Lukas to dream of their future love. Simpler yet just as effective: scattering the flowers under your bed,  they protect in sleep and give prophetic dreams, not only about future lovers, but also when it comes to revealing a thief, that has robbed you.

If you do not believe in the conjuring of thunderstorms, then you may plug the flower at noon, when the sun is highest in the sky, and it will strengthen and comfort the heart.

Peasants too, held marigold in high esteem, since they helped to predict the daily weather: if the flowers open early between 6-7 am, it would be a sunny day ahead; but if they stayed closed beyond 7 am the day would be rainy. The genus name Calendula hints at this: it is modern Latin diminutive of calendae, meaning “little calendar”, “little clock” or possibly “little weather-glass”.

Garlands of marigolds strung on the doorposts stop evil from entering the house.  Carried in the pocket, marigold helps justice to smile favorably upon you while in court.

Finally, in the past understanding the language of the birds must have been pivotal, and so it was thought, that if a girl touched the flowers with bare feet, she would be granted that skill.

Medicinal and culinary uses: Marigold is cultivated mainly in Germany and the Netherlands. The flowers are plucked manually or with machines and then dried. Flowers destined to be used as a decorative coloring agent, are dried at 80°C. The petals, fresh or dried, are added to tea and other food. Cheese and butter are colored with marigold. It can also be added to rice during cooking. While marigold itself does not taste like much, it enhances the taste of other food, similar to salt and can be added to pretty much any dish. Since marigold has been used to adulterate saffron, it is also known as “poor man’s saffron”.

In natural medicine, dried marigold flowers are used in various ways, i.e. as a tea, oil, salve, tincture or watery extract:

  • internally – against stomach ulcers and pre-menstrual tension syndrom, or as an antispasmodic, diaphoretic, diuretic and anthelmintic
  • externally – for treating skin inflammations, contusions, boils and exanthema and promoting wound healing

According to the Committee on Herbal Medicinal Products, the medicinal effects of calendula are not proven, or better said, sufficient surveys are lacking. If you are allergic to other plants in the daisy family, you may avoid marigold.

Pot marigold in the garden: marigold is such an easy plant, with so many good traits, that it could almost be considered a sin, to not grow it! It grows basically anywhere and in any soil, but if you want a strong marigold, full of flowers then plant it – of course – where it gets all of the sun! A clayey soil seems to be favorable as well. Too much nitrogen fertilizer impairs flowering, likewise does a lack of potassium and phosphor. Elin Unnes suggests to do like Annemarta Borgen: in a bucket blend the seeds with peat dust and water and then simply throw it wherever you want marigold to grow.

While I adore the flowers of pot marigold, the real treat for me are the seeds. Not only, because they are so differently shaped, but because they seem to resemble little dragons or fossilized animal bones. And yes, the strange claws from the outside of the faded flower up to the small curled up things in the center are in fact all seeds! The German name Ringelblume means “ringed flower” and is derived from the curled shape of the seeds. Now, after a year of blooming there are plenty of them and they ensure a new and profuse generation of marigold plants – typical for annuals! If on the other hand, you mind your pot marigold multiplying exponentially, dead-heading is a thing.

Pot marigold seeds are rich in oils. Do you know about any uses for them?

Propagation by seed:  An easy plant that readily self-seeds! Sow from April – August. Sow 0,5 cm deep and cover loosely with soil. The seeds germinate within 2-3 weeks at temperatures around 20°C. Calendula thrives in sun to half shade. The soil should be fresh, humus rich or clayey and well drained. Plant 25 cm apart. The annual plant gets 50 cm tall, with bright orange or yellow flowers. Some garden varieties have extra large and filled flowers. Pot marigold has a long duration of flowering. The petals can be added to salads. The seeds are rich in oils. Calendula has a positive effect on the soil and can be planted as a companion in any cottage, ornamental or kitchen garden.

Addendum: the origin of pot marigold is unknown. Some say it once came to Europe from Egypt and then was carried on with colonists to the New World. Or it once escaped from gardens and then was naturalized all around the world.

Not to be confused with the French or Mexican marigolds in the tagetes family!

Links and further reading:

Elin Unnes: Gartenverrückt, “Arme-Leute Safran”, p141 f.
Scott Cunningham, Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs
Alchemy Works
Wikipedia

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The 230 Years Old Camellia Tree of Pillnitz

The camellia in Pillnitz is around 230 years old and is considered the oldest camellia north of the Alps. It is almost 9 m high and 11 m in diameter. From February to April it is covered in carmine red flowers. During the cold season, the tree, which was planted at this place by court gardener Terscheck in 1801, is protected by a large glass house with stairs. During this time visitors can enter and view the tree from two levels.

In the mid 19th century Dresden became a European hot spot for the culture and breeding of camellias, and exported them to Russia as well as Italy and Spain. The camellia was viewed as a status symbol among European aristocrats, and Russians in particular, had a high demand for camellia flowers, which were exported in thousands to St. Petersburg and Moscow.

With growing popularity among Westerners, and contrary to its Far Eastern symbolism, the meaning of the camellia  flower changed. Thanks to popular literature, most prominently La dame aux camélias by Alexandre Dumas from 1848, as well as real life personae, such as the “Wiener Cameliendame”, a dancer named Fanny Elßler, the camellia became erotizised!

On the other hand the longevity of the flowers, and particularly white camellia flowers, became associated with death and mourning and were woven into funeral wreaths.

The seeds of all known (about 200) camellia seeds yield a valuable oil, which smoothes the hair and juvenates the skin. The oil is rich in linolenic acid, and is also used in cooking and reduces cholesterine. Samurai rubbed camellia oil unto their sword blades to protect them from rust. The oil is also used as a natural surface finish for wood, as lube in watches and precision engineering and more.

Camellia wood is hard and durable and was used in the manufacture of weapons, different tools as well as kokeshi dolls. Up to the Edo period, a camellia rod was used in Buddhist ceremony to punish and drive out malign spirits. The wood also yielded a spark-free and, hence sought after charcoal.

Camellias are highly resistant against diseases and may contain different antibacterial and fungicidal agents.

Besides, the first Westerner to portrait a camellia flower was likely a Saxon gardener by the name George Meister. His book “Der Orientalisch-Indianische Kunst- und Lust-Gärtner” was published in 1692 in Dresden. In it he describes both the camellia as well as its crop plant, Camellia sinensis var. sinensis – the tea shrub!

Further Reading:
https://kamelienschloss.de/botanische-sammlung/kamelien/geschichte-verwendung-von-kamelien/
https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pillnitzer_Kamelie
https://www.schlosspillnitz.de/de/schloss-park-pillnitz/kamelie/

April 2017

I spent this month mainly with work on the next row of wooden seed boxes, adding new herbs to the set and reading up on them. The central theme this time were summer herbs (with the summer solstice in mind), which are sown in spring or early summer, such as poppies, cornflower, chamomile, evening primrose, yarrow, viper’s bugloss etc. Then I paid attention to Harold Roth’s book “The Witching Herbs” (signed copies available here), and included seeds for the magical herbs discussed there. Besides these I added some endangered plants such as the wonderful centaury and plants that are in decline, such as the field larkspur. With wood betony and motherwort there are some new old, forgotten about healing herbs joining the series.

Another herb I was curious about (and I know that you are too), is the enchanter’s nightshade. It is quite inconspicuous in appearance, almost invisible between other herbs. It is not poisonous at all and in fact, much more beneficial than, what its name suggests. This makes for some very interesting treats for employing this herb in sympathetic magic…

Along with adding more new herbs I also updated the sowing tables and added info texts for each. Further, my attention was drawn to the Euphorbiaceae plant genus. Last year I had been pointed to the spurge as part of a Martial incense recipe. I started researching but could not pinpoint which type of spurge was meant. There are many plants in that genus, which is found in large diversity all around the globe. But which is the one most relevant in Western medieval / renaissance magic? By chance and when searching for spurge seeds, I came across a seller on eBay who just mentioned randomly that the caper spurge (Euphorbia lathyris), with its impressive size, poisonous milky sap and auspicious shape, was the plant famously believed to break hexes and ward of witches from one’s home…. Well, here we go. It is now added to the selection of poisonous herbs coming with the boxes and I can’t wait to grow it myself.

What more? I finished and shipped the last of my “Poisoner’s” seed boxes. I will now overthink the concept and design for this one.

I also spent a lot of time in the garden, harvesting masterwort root, thinning and weeding out, pricking out seedlings and sowing more…

My shortage of henbane last winter led me to sow new henbane, which resulted eventually in hundreds of little plants of black, white and the rare Egyptian henbane! These have now been separated and planted in trays of 24 each + 1 mixed tray. The temperatures are still low and even though it did not actually freeze again, it is too cold for the small plants (the test tray doesn’t seem to like my outdoors experiment on the window sill). I am therefore keeping the trays with the white and the Egyptian henbane indoors, together with purple Indian datura and several moon vine plants. The tray with the black henbane seedlings stays in the unheated greenhouse.

This month’s harvest:

  • Lamarck’s Aconite (Aconitum lamarckii), thinning out, Tuesday (11th)
  • Masterwort root (Peucedanum ostruthium), thinning out, Tuesday (11th) and Thursday (27th)
  • Herb Gerard (Aegopodium podagraria), weeding out, Saturday (22nd)
  • Myrtle (Myrtus communis), pruning, Sunday (23rd)
  • Horse tail (Equisetum arvense), weeding out, Friday (28th)

Besides, l am now a lady with a barrow full of fragrant lily of the valley! 🌱🌱🌱 (Thanks to an unexpected gift from our neighbors, who are restructuring their garden.) I now have to prepare a spot for them to grow. Else, that barrow has now met its final destiny…

Herbs I plan to sow this and the following weekends:

  • blue hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis ‘Caeruelus’)
  • caper spurge (Euphorbia lathyris)*
  • centaury (Centaurium erythreae)
  • clary sage (Salvia sclarea var. turkestanica)
  • enchanter’s nightshade (Circaea lutetiana)
  • evening primrose (Oenothera odorata ‘Sulfurea’)
  • honeywort (Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’)
  • lion’s tail (Leonotis leonurus)
  • poison hemlock (Conium maculatum)
  • snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus ‘Night and Day’)
  • st. john’s wort (Hypericum perforatum ‘Tauberthal’)
  • thyme (Thymus vulgaris ‘Frnech Summer’)
  • wood betony (Stachys officinalis) *

So long, I wish my followers a Blessed Walpurgis!

Plant Riddle #3

Wuth only few days left until the Winter Solstice, I am excited to share my next plant riddle with you! This time the herb I’m looking for is not a poisonous one. It is a classic healing plant, which belongs in any herbal apothecary. A giant in the garden, its name relative is associated with an adversarial hero, who helped man and offended the gods.

The riddle is again accompanied by a new illustration I did earlier in autumn and which may help or confuse…

riddle-no3

Which is the plant in question?

Fennel in the Garden

Fennel

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is a wonderful and mighty plant in the garden. It is for example a nectar source for hover flies. Hoverfly larvae feed on aphids (one hoverfly larva may devour as many as 700 aphids during its development) and thus are very useful creatures in the garden, providing long-term protection for infested plants.

Fennel seed is a remedy against all sorts of digestive disorders, both in man as well as animals. A quick first aid for young birds that have fallen out of their nest and occur starved is dextrose/honey solved in fennel tea. Birds in the wild love to eat the seeds, hence another reason for making fennel a constant companion in your garden.

My fennel plants are 4 years old and come back every year. (Who said fennel was biennial?) They are quite the sight, get over two meters tall and always remind me of the fire Prometheus stole from heaven and brought to earth for mankind to master… (tbc that myth applies to Ferula communis, but our common fennel can be viewed as worthy substitute). The sulfur yellow flower umbels also make for a nice contrast with the dark green leaves of monkshood and yew.

Sometimes I spend a moment in the sun and just watch the fennel sway in the wind… I perceive it as an ultimate summer/air plant, which also has the power to clear a chaotic mind as well as inspire artistic vision. The seeds I have here are VERY aromatic, sweet but also with a strong camphorous note.They would make a fine addition to prophetic incense blends as well as oils and decoctions. E.g. I love to sip some fennel tea in the evening and when my mind feels tired or scattered, as it brings back focus and clarity.

Of course you can also sow them. Now is a good time to harvest fresh ripe fennel seeds and sow them directly.

References

Wildvogelhilfe.org + Wirkt langfristig gegen Blattläuse +