Monday, July 16, 2007

Herbal Legends, folklore & mediaval uses Hazel Corylus

OK, I just back from watching the new Harry Potter movie The Order Of the Pheoenix, the secret is out I am a huge Harry Potter Nerd! Maybe I am just a kid at heart but I love epic fantasy novels, old myths and lore, movies like Lord of The Rings, or similar fantasy. My relatives are from Arkansas and a lot of folklore comes from those mountains, my Grandpa was a "well witcher" he used a forked stick sometimes called a "divining rod" to find water for wells and my aunt (his daughter) still does this for our family to this day, she just witched my cousin's well when they built their home. She also does things like the "ring test" for paternity and is a master gardener. Maybe this planted the seed for my fascination with the mystical & magical. As I count down the days until the final book 7 in the Harry Potter series comes out on Saturday, I thought it would be fun to cover some unusual uses for herbs in the past and present, talk about some of the herbs in Harry Potter, & other fairy tales & mediaeval uses of herbs. Let me just tell you ahead of time these uses are legends, I either heard it from others or got the info from various books and stories I read, I have no way of proving them (except for my aunt using the divining rod) so if you are left brained or need "proof" just consider these writings a pleasant fiction. Another note, a lot of the time the old uses are not put into practice today by modern herbalists (some can be dangerous), they are however fun to read about & keep in mind that old legends do sometimes have a grain of truth them (laughs mischievously) !

I will start with the type of wood many used for the divining rod. Hazel Corylus
Henriette has great pictures here

My Grandpa and I would go out and gather the hazel nuts they are very good to eat. I heard from a friend that you can wear the shells to help with arthritic symptoms. After gathering the nuts, Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest would burn the stalks to increase the nut supply for the next year.

Old Time Medicinal Uses

Pliny's Natural History, hazel nuts can be used for catarrh and chronic cough
Europeans believed that a double hazel nut carried in your pocket would relieve a tooth ache.
Hazel nuts were believed to increase fertility, there is a Bohemian belief that the presence of a large number of hazel nuts fortels the birth of many illegitimate children.
Hazel was also used to drive out devils in cattle.

Henriette has more uses at here site here

Other Uses

Back in the day, schoolmasters would use the hazel rod for a switch to slap the hands or butts of children.
For many centuries the hazel is used for the divining rod to find water or metal (or other objects)
One end of the fork is held in each hand with the end pointed toward the ground. My aunt reports that the rod will begin to shake, sometimes so violently it hurts your hand, then the end will point to the exact spot to where the water or object you seek is there. There seems to be some people with the gift for well witching, it does not work for every person. Often it runs in families, I have not yet tried my hand at it, but I may if the need arises. Before you become skeptical, let me assure you well witching still goes on today here is an interesting article
It doesn't have to be a hazel tree, but this tree is famous for it's use.


Hazel in European folklore is said to to be immune from all damage from lightning. The holy family is said to have taken refuge under a hazel tree during flight into Egypt. You can place a hazel twig in your window during a storm, and in some places they are used as lightning rods. If you nail 3 hazel pins into the beams of your house it will save it from fire.
In Sweden hazel nuts were said to make the carrier invisible.
A hazel branch cut at midnight on Walpurgis Night would keep the person from falling into holes while drunk. If a branch was cut on Good Friday or St John's Eve, it gave the power to "lash your enemy with it in your own apartments and without seeing him. Merely name him and law stoutly about you, and your foe will dance and bellow, no matter if hi is a thousand miles away" (Skinner, Charles M Myths and legends of flowers, trees, fruits, and plants 1911 pg 132)


Shamana Flora said...

cool!! i saw one hazel tree while i was there. it was lovely, and we ate unripe hazel nuts!
thanks for a gret post on an unfamiliar plant!

jim mcdonald said...

you rule - I, too, am geeked about friday, and the last book. I teach all weekend; I'm gonna have to try hard not to blow off classes and hole up with the deathly hallows...

Angie Goodloe LMT, Herbalist said...

LOL! So glad I am not the only one Jim! I will be a shut in until the book is finished!
Darcy, the nuts are great huh! You will have to come back and we can discover more plants on this mountain!

Kiva Rose said...

While I can't seem to work up any interest in Harry Potter, I do love books steeped in the mythological and well-versed in plant lore... I had a totally profound moment the first time I read the Fellowship of the Ring and Strider went used those special plants on Frodo's wound, I was about six or seven and it was one those defining moments that taught me something about myself. I also love the plant lore included in books like Wise Child and The Red Tent. I only wish there were more books like that.

Oh yeah, I love Hazel too, though I haven't seen any since I moved from Northern Pennsylvania. Nice post.

Angie Goodloe LMT, Herbalist said...

Hi Kiva, I will have to make a note of the books you mentioned. The first book I read that really did that for me was Clan of The Cave Bear, still on my top list of favorites. I was about 7 or 8, this really pushed me in the direction I am now, considering I was such a rebel I doubt family influence would have persuaded me as fast (I would have taken the lessons for granted), you know when you are a adolescent you like to make decisions for yourself. My sister Cierra was about 7 or 8 at the time Harry Potter came out, she is the one who got me started on the books. When the first one came out she begged me to read it, at first, I didn't really get into it either, but she kept on and by the 3rd book I was hooked. My sister and I are going together to get the books this weekend, I managed to get my husband hooked too LOL

Shamana Flora said...

yes, clan of the cave bear, that is probably my biggest single influence on my lifes work, hearts path etc....

i was 12, and enamored tha tyou could eat plants!

jim mcdonald said...

one of the pivotal moments in my herbal learning curve was when, around a fire very late one night, someone was complaining of mosquio bites. It was pitch black, especially walking away from the fire. I walked a bit aways, felt the ground with my feet, reached down, pulled a couple plantain leaves up. I remembered that scene kiva mentioned, where strider says, "I found this plant in the dark by its scent..."


Harry Potter is among the best literature that I think has been written in the last couple decades; everyone should read it.

Anyone else read jonathan strange and mr norrell? that's also quite good...

Angie Goodloe LMT, Herbalist said...

Mr Norell will be on my list of books to read! I thought Eragon by Paolini was pretty good (can't believe he was only 15 when he wrote it), maybe I liked it because the herbalists name was Angela LOL.I also remember my Step Dad had a dusty old copy of The Hobbit, I really enjoyed reading that series as well, the author's love for the trees I could really relate to, around the same time they began cutting down the outer edge of the forest behind my house. I remember sitting in a stump and crying, I really "felt" the trees pain, I could hear almost like a mourning song coming from the other plants around.