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
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)