A sacred plant of pre-Christian religions, the parasitic mistletoe was believed to hold the life of the host tree when the tree appeared to be dead in winter. It had an even greater significance when it grew on the oak which the Druids worshipped. Apparently the viscous, pearly berries were regarded as the seminal fluid of the oak and therefore of the oak-tree god or spirit. For this reason, it was held to be a charm to to induce fertility, and the present-day custom of kissing under a sprig of mistletoe probably derives from this. White-robed Druids ceremoniously cut mistletoe with a golden sickle on the sixth day of the moon. The mistletoe was then divided among the people who fastened it above their doorways to protect their houses from thunder, lightning and all evil. The sprigs were regarded as a symbol of hospitality, and the plant was the base of so many remedies that for centuries it was known by the alternative name of all-heal.
A primrose blooming in winter augured death; so did a single primrose bought into a house. If fewer than 13 were gathered in the first spring posy, the number picked would equal the chickens each hen would hatch that year.
The leaf was believed to give the bearer the power of invisibility. The plant also had the ability to open locked chests, though this could only be done on St James’s Day (25th of July). It was essential to use a golden knife while holding a chicory leaf against the lock. The lockpicker had to work in silence, however; if he spoke, he would surely die.
In one account, the Pied Piper lured the rats from Hamelin with a pocketful of valerian. Rats and cats are attracted to the plant, which is also thought to arouse love in humans.
The name of this flower derives from ‘folk’s-glove’, because foxgloves were believed to have been worn by fairies.
A mass of superstitions were associated with parsley, most of them concerned with death and disaster. It should never be transplanted, or given away, or cut by a person in love.
An old belief was that snakes ate fennel to help them slough their skins and to improve their short sight. It was said that an unwilling horse could be caught if it were offered fennel-flavoured gingerbread.
In the Fens, vervain oil was used to locate drowned bodies. It was believed to attract eels to the spot in the stream were the body lay. Vervain was supposed to have been used to staunch Christ’s wounds on Calvary, and it was never gathered without first making the sign of the Cross.
It was believed the plant grew only where the woman ruled the house.
10. St John’s worst
Midsummer was celebrated as a festival of the sun by our pagan ancestors, and this golden flower was an emblem of the sun god. Later, Christians dedicated Midsummer Day to St John the Baptist, and the sun-god’s flower became St John’s wort. Bunches of the flower were hung over doors to ward off evil spirits. The plant was believed to be able to move about to avoid having its flowers picked.
all extracts taken from Folklore Myths and Legends of Britain published by Reader’s Digest.