First, there is the Artemisia genus, named for the virgin huntress of Greek mythology, Artemis - goddess of the hunt, the moon, and female power and autonom, who ran with the wolves, protected women - especially in childbirth - and took no men to her bed. She struck down Orion, the mighty hunter, for seeing her naked as she bathed. A genus of equally formidable herbs bear her name. Mugwort, aka Artemisia vulgaris, is the most commonly used and it has many mundane uses - period problems, indigestion, anxiety, mildly sluggish liver; but the more interesting ones include finding a path through difficult situations, lucid dreaming, and demon possession. It has a strange penchant for growing at crossroads and, when placed beneath the pillow it holds its green and white flower stalks aloft in the perilous, dark and uncertain ways of dreams. Picked in full flower then tightly bound into wands and dried, it makes a fine smudge or incense for magical endeavours.
Other members of the Artemisia genus include the ironically named Sweet Annie, a bitter anti-malarial; Lad’s Love, traditionally used by women post lad’s love should there be consequences; and Wormwood, a key ingredient of the infamous Absinthe, drink of poets, artists and 19th Century libertines.
Rose, of course, used in love potions and remedies for broken hearts, pining lovers, and those who have lost themselves in grief. When combined with cinnamon and honey, alcohol and chocolate, vanilla and musk and verdigris, Rose makes a love potion and sensual elixir of the first order. The sensuous pink petals open the heart, lift the spirits, and make one feel rather warmly disposed towards one’s companions; and they have the most pleasing and sensual perfume. When love has passed or ended, or a beloved one has died, and heartbreak and grief are stifling a once vivacious soul, Rose helps once again, combining well with Hawthorn and the luminous pearl of water from a Lady’s Mantle leaf. That pearl was once sought after by alchemists in their quest for spiritual purity, and the association gives the plant it’s latin name, Alchemilla.
If you find yourself having run afoul of a sorcerer and a malevolent spell cast upon you, then there is some good news: if the spell has been wrought with a wand or staff of any type of wood, then Rowan will undo it without much bother. Rowan is the most powerful of woods, and the trees were often planted near houses to ward off evil influences. Should you need to stake a vampire, Rowan is an excellent choice for the wood; hawthorn, oak, and ash, strong in magic of their own, will also work nicely. If you are making divination sticks, rune coins, or handles for ritual knives, you might choose poisonous Yew wood, for the evergreen and everlasting trees’ association with death (Oh, those sweet and sticky berries. Whatever you do, don’t eat the seeds!) and immortality, and powerful spirits of The Wood. If, on the night of thinnest veils, you find yourself around a Hawthorn tree, keep an eye out for fairies, Hawthorns being their favourite haunt. Fairies are fine folk, but not so much in the house; never bring cut Hawthorn branches or flowers inside, and be sure to plant the Holly King and Elder Queen near your doors to gently but firmly bar the Wee Folk of the Forest’s entry into your home.
For dark workings, one might need a deadly poisonous Mandrake root. The Mandrake gets its name from the root’s uncanny shape, so human-like that when pulled it lets out scream so blood curdling it strikes dead any creature unlucky enough to hear it. To avoid the lethal screams, the root might be tied to an unfortunate dog for a final tug. Mandragora is the most deadly of the nightshades, few of which are native, and most of which are hard to find. Henbane, with its sallow grey corpse-coloured flowers, once grew beneath the gallows, said to spring from the spilt seed of hanged men. The same dark origin was sometimes given to Mandragora; the Medieval custom having been to allow the executed to hang for some time before moving them to the churchyard, or, if very wicked, to the crossroads to hang on a gibbet as a warning to other wayward souls. Hanging at a crossroads - or indeed burying, as was the practice with suicides - would prevent the spirit of the dead from resting or wandering back to terrorise the living.
Belladonna, or Deadly Nightshade, whose Latin name, Atropa, comes from the Fate whose job it was to cut the threads in the web if life, can occasionally be found, with her twinkling blackberry eyes, in old gardens, graveyards and out of the way places where witches have been at work. Legend holds that the plant belongs to the devil, and at times transforms into a beautiful, and of course deadly, enchantress. All the poisonous nightshades were once used in flying ointments, that the witches might travel to the great Sabbat ceremonies in spirit, whilst their bodies lay asleep. The plants have also frequently been employed by poisoners to do away with spouses, and by numerous Angels of Death working in infirmaries to do away with unsuspecting patients. The pupil dilation caused by nightshade alkaloids is especially handy for disguising that murder has been done when opiate poisoning has contracted a victim’s pupils to pinpoints. A drop of belladonna in each eye and no one would be the wiser.
Flying ointment also included, amongst ingredients like baby’s fat and the famous Eye-of-Newt, the carrot family’s Hemlock. One of the most deadly of wild plants, it was the herb Socrates was forced to drink as punishment for corrupting the minds of Athens’ youth. Into a steaming cauldron or poisoned cup one might also put Dog Mercury and Wolfsbane, Thorn Apple, Mistletoe and Hellbine, Funeral Bells, Opium Poppies and Enchanter’s Nightshade, to name but a few of the unsavoury things that can be found in the wood. Like the wood itself, though, if you have respect for the witches herbs, they won’t hurt you. Probably.