Rue is historically a good herb in folklore — but there are some negative notions about it that we still carry with us today. To rue something means to have deep regret that it happened — usually because it was frustrating, sad, or painful! Why take that term from a plant?
As many gardeners know, touching the plant and the leaves too much can be incredibly irritating to the skin. Foxgloves are the common name for the Digitalis genus, used in ancient times as a drug, and still used today in some heart medicines. Digitalin, a cardiac glycoside that can be extracted from the plant, can help steady rapid heartbeats and arrhythmias in small doses.
However, the constituents of this beautiful flower were also used as a poison in old times, since these same cardiac glycosides are highly toxic — and best kept away from pets and small children. Of course, foxes never wore gloves, but the name is recorded in England as far back at the fourteenth century. According to M. The blooms are heliotropic and they follow the light. During old times, when fairies were strongly believed in, the plant was said to be moving towards any fairy person that could be passing by.
The common foxglove is D. These tall, stately blooms look very ghostly and beautiful, and are even visible as dusk falls. There are many hybrid varieties of foxglove available, as well as some in shades of apricot and pink.
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Like foxglove, there are several other very poisonous plants that are beautiful and common in gardens — but which were once associated strongly with bad witches and their nasty ways. Consuming the smallest part of the plant can be fatal it contains cardiac glycosides, similar to foxglove , and even excessive skin contact can be dangerous! For anyone wanting to handle it — and this included old herbalists who once used it as medicine — it is a good idea to wear gloves.
Though it is pretty, it is best to be avoided by pets and children, along with the other ingredients the old hags of folklore were said to use — including popular garden flowers like belladonna, hellebore, and henbane. In fact, all these toxic herbs were once known to be mixed together with animal fat and other ingredients, to make a potent salve called flying ointment that witches would use for magical tasks! It may not have poisoned them, since the plants would absorb much slower into the body topically.
But it certainly gave them hallucinations, aiding them with astral travels, flights of fancy, and meetings with other witches on broomsticks, as described in this article from About Religion. In the north of England, The Duchess of Northumberland has made a poison garden as part of her striking gardens open to the public at Alnwick Castle. It is quite educational, and helps people recognize plants that are potentially dangerous. Gardens can be abundant and useful — especially for growing spices for cooking, healing, simple beauty, and enjoyment.
Interestingly, there are very powerful and magic-tinged memories of our most favorite culinary spices. Some of them are quite fascinating! Legends say that a holy monk dreamed of talking with an angel, who showed him an herb that could heal the bubonic plague — and it just so happened to be angelica. The leaves and stems, when cut very young, are delicious when crystalized with sugar or syrup and eaten as a snack. This useful herb was hung over doors to prevent the devil or witches from gaining access to homes with dark magic — and fennel seeds were put in keyholes for the same reason.
Plant Foilklore: Myths, Magic, and Superstition | Gardener's Path
The bronze cultivar of fennel, with the simple name bronze fennel, is particularly beautiful! Read more about growing fennel now. In ancient Rome, it was used to crown brides and grooms to wish them future happiness. While a sweet and unassuming herb used quite often in cooking , parsley had a reputation for belonging to the devil in some northern European cultures — most notably in the United Kingdom, as depicted in this article from Legendary Dartmoor.
The plant is notoriously slow to germinate , and old stories would have it that it went seven times to the devil and back before it germinated. Rosemary was once widely believed to be a protective herb. It was thought to ward off evil spirits and witches in the Middle Ages, and was sometimes dropped into graves so that a deceased loved one would not be forgotten. This is an ingredient beloved by cooks , and it makes a good small shrub in the garden.
Sage was once dubbed a cure-all by many ancient herbalists in both Europe and Asia — some Arab physicians even believed that it could incur immortality. Called Salvias from the genus Salvia , there are numerous varieties of sages. Variegated sages S. The rose has been an adored flowering shrub for centuries, a sentiment shared among different cultures all around the world. Legend has it that once, all roses were thought to be white — until Venus, the Roman goddess of love, cut herself on the thorns and turned the flower red forever with her blood.
The legend of the Cherokee rose, for example — scientific name Rosa laevigata, the state flower of Georgia — centers around a species that came to the U. It is said that after Cherokee mothers and women who walked the tragic Trail of Tears grieved all those who had fallen, their tears sprouted to become beautiful white roses, which spread all around the country as a reminder.
This is just part of the Cherokee rose legend, from the First People website. It is a climbing rose that can grow up to heights of twenty feet, and can grow as an evergreen perennial in zones in the U. There are so many wonderful plants and trees that you can grow in your garden space — and so many of them have a strong and magical folkloric history.
If you are considering adding any of the plants from this article to your garden, take care to educate yourself on the more poisonous and dangerous ones, especially if you have little ones and pets. Their history is fascinating, that much is for sure — and with the right gardening knowledge and caution, you can enjoy even the most magical and superstitious of plants for yourself.
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Have you had any experiences with these fascinating garden plants and their old tales? Or do you have your own curiosities and knowledge to share about the lore of these plants — or many others, for that matter? Always consult with a medical professional before changing your diet, or using herbal remedies. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock.
Contributing writer, editor, and photographer: Adrian White. How to Grow Common Morning Glory.
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How and When to Harvest Almonds. How to Grow and Use Capers. What Is Citrus Greening Disease? Enjoy Prehistoric Wonder with Sago Palm. Sheila is a plantaholic. She taught floral art and gardening at Kirkley Hall College of Agriculture and has presented the same topics on various TV shows. She is also a retired English language and literature teacher. Sheila now breeds and shows dogs, and blogs about her life's passion - gardening. Thanks for such a lovely article! Some of my favourites in there. I really enjoyed reading it. I really enjoyed reading this article a lot.
Was awed by the myths, magic and superstition embedded in the article. Very lovely though. Well done..
Thanks Alisson. Thanks for this fascinating article. Thanks for your comment, Valerie. I agree that in this context, the term was used clumsily. The article has been updated. About Sheila Muckle Sheila is a plantaholic.