Tuesday 26 July 2016

Flower Magic and Folklore: Enchanter's Nightshade

The delicate white flowers growing among my lavender are enchanter's nightshade. Isn't that a lovely name?

I only learnt what it was called last weekend when a pagan friend came around to visit and recognised it. I had been wondering about it and was delighted when I found out.

My mother, who was a keen gardener when she was younger, considered it a weed and would ruthlessly dig it out of the flowerbeds. After she died I decided I liked the contrast of the lavender and the white flowers and left it. (And, to be completely honest, I also don't have that much time for weeding either.) Now I have learnt what a witchy name it has, I will proudly let it grow.

However, despite being called enchanter's nightshade, research showed me that it isn't related to other nightshades, such as deadly nightshade or woody nightshade. Instead it is a member of the willowherb (onagraceae) family. It isn't poisonous, which is a good thing, but it isn't considered edible either. It contains a large amount of tannin, which is an astringent, and I found some references to it being drunk as a tea or applied as a wash to help alleviate rheumatism, gout, infections and fever.

With a name like enchanter's nightshade, you would think it would really come into its own magically - but surprisingly I couldn't find it mentioned in the books I usually turn to when looking up magical plant and herbs. Some online research told me that its Latin name, Circaea lutetiana, which relates to the enchantress Circe of Greek mythology, and that perhaps it was one of the herbs she was thought to have put into her potion to turn Odysseus's shipmates into pigs in Homer's epic poem. With this association, it could be used in spells for enchantment, transformation and even cursing.

According to folklore, in the language of flowers enchanter's nightshade means witchcraft or sorcery - another reason to leave it growing in my front garden among my lavender.

Note: This is for information only and is not medical advice. Always consult a qualified medical herbalist before taking any herbal remedy.

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Anonymous said...

Enchanters grows in abundance in my garden, it’s difficult to eradicate because of rooting structure so best just left to flourish. Though I’m not into any metaphysical etc beliefs, it was interesting to find out about this nightshade that is not a nightshade and it’s mythological connections. Unfortunately this year it’s leaves seem to have been affected by some kind of fungi or other parasite or ?? Leaving many looking a bit worse for wear. I live in south east London so hardly the place for enchanted flowers.

Ian Holt said...

I have Enchanters Nightshade growing in abundance around my garden, it's difficult to eradicate as a weed because of its unusual rooting system, so best left to thrive. I had no idea what this plant was and after eventually taking time to identify it was impressed by both its name and the mythology surrounding it, though I couldn't understand why such a tiny innocuous looking plant should have such an image and imagination evoking name, not being into the metaphysical or magical etc I just put it down to the Ancient Greeks, although the plant does have some medicinal properties including apparently for gout, I prefer Allopurinol and Tart Cherry, to whatever ingesting this plant may involve, apparently you can also drink it as a tea because its not actually a member of the Nightshade family as you point out, again a mystery as to its nomenclature. I live in urban south east London , hardly the place of magic and potions or indeed witchcraft etc and unfortunately this year the enchantresses leaves are looking decidedly worse for wear, a fungi of parasite, who knows? But I'm sure its intrinsic power will overcome and it will continue to return to thrive next year.
anyway just stumbled on your blog trying to find out what ails the plant in my garden.