Plant Lore

Loads of totally true stuff about plants along with tradition, folklore, myth and superstition, but which is which?


Basil - according to the druids

Basil is a herb for purification, love and money. Put a piece of basil in each of the four corners of your house at the beginning of each season to bring wealth. If you grow basil in your garden, you need to shout and scream at it to make it grow into a strong plant.

It also symbolizes love. At one time young girls would place some on their windowsill to indicate they were looking for a suitor. In Tudor times, small pots of this were given by farmers' wives to visitors as parting gifts. It is also reputed that any man will fall in love with a woman from whom he accepts some basil from as a gift. Can be used as snuff to cure headaches.  


Scattering the flowers is thought to placate demons in many countries particularly in the Far East, being associated with death and the spirits of the dead. If one bean in a row should come up white instead of green, an English tradition associates this occurrence with death. In south west England it was once believed that 3rd May was the best time to plant kidney beans to ensure a successful crop. (My Grandad always said plant them on the 1st of May under cover and then plant them out in the garden on the 1st of June, that was Nottingham).

Broad beans were thought to possess the soul of the dead, and when in flower it was believed that accidents were more likely to happen. If it was a leap year it was thought that the bean would grow upside-down. The shape of the bean was thought to be associated with death and ghosts. Scattering some around the outside of the house would stave of such attentions for 12 months.

Broad beans have also been associated with forecasting the future. A European belief was that three beans should be prepared in different ways to produce an outcome and then hidden on Midsummer Eve for the enquirer to find. The untouched bean indicated wealth, the half-peeled bean indicated a comfortable life, whilst the third fully peeled bean indicated poverty. The future was revealed by which bean was found first.

The ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras (he of the theorem) founded a religion one of the basic tenets of which was the sinfulness of eating beans.

Blackberries and bramble bushes.

Creating a natural arch out of any forms of brambles and passing someone who is ill underneath was reputed to cure the affected. Blackheads, rheumatism, boils and whooping cough were also thought to be helped by eating the fruit.

This fruit has over time has also become associated with the Devil in France and England. In France it was thought that the colour of the fruit resulted from when the Devil spat on it, whilst in England it was thought that picking fruit after 11 October (old Michaelmas Day) would bring bad luck as the Devil was believed to have fallen into a thicket and had left a curse on the thorns which had hurt him.


Use to combat burglaries. Place among your valued possessions, if the thief manages to get into the house then the caraway will transfix the person until rescue arrives. For women worried about their husbands wandering off with other women, placing some caraway in the pocket will do the trick - a similar principle with pigeons - a little in their food and they'll never want to find another coop.


carrots for eyesightCarrots contain chemicals that are the precursors to retinol the chemical found in our retina that is vital to us being able to see. So there is some basis of truth in the belief that eating a lot of carrots will improve the eyesight.

The story of WW2 British RAF pilots being fed on a special diet of carrots is false however but typical of the claims made of this vegetable (it may have also helped throw the enemy off the scent of the recently developed radar, that really did enable the RAF to see in the dark).

Eating large quantities of boiled carrots was thought to help asthmatics (by relieving constriction of the bronchial tubes). Also thought to be an aphrodisiac (as is just about everything else in the world that's vaguely penis-shaped).

Trick - write the word "carrot" on a piece of paper and hide it. Ask some-one to quickly answer your questions, ask "what is 1 + 1?", "what is 2 + 2" etc. until the answer is 128, then ask them to name a vegetable, they will almost always answer with "carrot" - reveal your paper.


Who needs a magic cloak like Harry Potter when there's chicory about, not sure how you use it though.

Can be used to open locked chests on July 25th (St. James's Day). Hold a golden knife and some chicory leaves against the lock, and it will open - but only in silence, if a word is spoken "death will soon be upon you". (How do stories like that start?). Early American settlers and prospectors are said to have carried a piece of chicory with them for good luck.


In the Far East it is believed to have the power to bring back lost souls being heavily used in religious ceremonies. It is also seen to be an effective aphrodisiac.

Garlic juice is an antiseptic and antibacterial agent like many other members of the onion family to which it belongs, used frequently through the ages to clean wounds, particularly in battle.


An old Welsh tradition is to rub themselves with leeks before going into battle to bring extra strength and power while providing protection from injury. So if a Welshman smells of leeks, watch out!


A bit of a contradicting lore here, the Romans believed that the lettuce plant was a powerful aphrodisiac. It was also served in quantity at feasts and weddings for these reasons and also because it was thought to prevent drunkenness.

In England on the other hand country people traditionally believed that planting lots of lettuce in the garden could prevent conception!

Mushrooms and toadstools

Scientists suspect that lunar cycles affect their growth. Japanese believed that mushrooms and toadstools were made by thunder. Greeks and Aztecs believed they were made by lightning. It was thought that they sprang up overnight and disappeared the next day. The Aztec's even had a mushroom and toadstool god Tlaloc. He was represented wearing a serpent headdress.

Edible mushrooms were considered the food of the gods in ancient Greece and Mexico where they were called Teonanacatl, Flesh of the Gods. In Central America, the rites of the sacred mushroom were conducted. Guatemalan mushroom rites date back to at least 1000 B.C.

Toadstools have always been associated with fairies. A circle of taller, darker grass within a ring of toadstools, sometimes accompanied by a ring of dark earth is often called a Fairy Ring. They were believed to be caused by the path of dancing fairies, elves, fire-breathing dragons, lightning strike or witches. Stepping into a fairy ring could bring good or bad luck, cause or cure illness. (not a lot of use then)

A fairy ring in a field beside a house was believed to bring good fortune. Harm was believed to come to a cow that stepped within the circle or ate its grass. It was also thought that you would become enchanted if you entered a ring during a full moon.

Early Christians believed that mushrooms sprang up where St. Peter spat bread on the ground, toadstools where the devil spat.


Finding a single pea in a pod when shelling them is a sign of good fortune. Finding nine means that you can make a wish once you've thrown one of the nine over your shoulder. Sounds like a good way of keeping someone going while shelling peas to me and also bothering with the short skinny ones with not many inside!


In 1493, Columbus came across the pineapple, Ananas comosos,  on the island of Guadeloupe. The natives who cultivated these fruits called them ananas and believed that they had been brought from the Amazon many generations earlier by the warlike Caribs. (This oral history may be true, as pineapple-shaped jars have been found in pre-Incan burial sites in Brazil.)

A few explorers had observed that Indians used pineapple poultices to reduce inflammation in wounds and other skin injuries. Native people also drank the juice to aid digestion and to cure stomach ache. In 1891 an enzyme that broke down proteins (bromelain) was isolated from the flesh of the pineapple, accounting for many of the pineapple's healing properties. It has been found that bromelain can also break down blood clots, which consist mainly of protein. Research continues. This enzyme may well play a major part in heart attack treatment in the near future, as well as in the treatment of burned tissue, abscesses, and ulcers.


Traditionally associated with death and disaster. Bad luck will come your way especially if you cut some for your cooking and you are in love at the same time, or transplant it, or give it away.

Like Rosemary, it is reputed to grow best if the woman of the household is dominant. It was associated with death by the Ancient Greeks who dedicated it in funeral rites and scattered it on graves. It was also woven into crowns for victors of sporting games (and fed to the chariot horses before the races).

It is also believed that babies could be discovered in parsley beds, and that unmarried girls could put matters to right if they chewed parsley three times a day for three weeks. When scattered in fishponds it can reputedly heal sick fish too. The Romans used to line their graves with Parsley to keep the Devil away, and also to avoid their plants falling into someone else's hands as this was considered to be like throwing luck away. In Britain it was also once believed that to sow parsley was to encourage the conception of children.

According to my granddad, parsley seeds take so long to germinate because they have to go to the devil and back seven times first.


It is believed that this plant grows in abundance where the woman rules the home but it is probably best to say that the strong flavoured evergreen shrub is associated with remembrance, with sprigs often being placed in funeral wreaths or carried at country funerals.

Wild Plants


Fields of bluebells are dangerously enchanted by fairies, who are called to their midnight dances and revels by the sound of bluebells ringing.


dandelionApparently seen as a love omen in English country folklore. When I was a child smelling a dandelion flower was to be avoided as it meant that you would wet the bed.

Dandelion clocks of the fluffy seed heads can be used to tell the time - count how many blows (o'clocks) to remove them all. Alternatively counting the number of seeds left after you have blown on it will indicate how many years you will have to wait until your wedding day.


Also known as 'Devil Brushes in England. It is believed that hanging dried ferns in the house will protect all the inhabitants from thunder and lightning damage. Be careful because it may rain when the ferns are cut or burnt.

The brackenseed of the plant is said to provide magical qualities if you place a few in the pocket - invisibility being the most notable (probably need to keep your fingers crossed at the same time).

Be careful when you go seed collecting because it is believed that treading on a fern will cause the poor unfortunate traveller to become confused and lose his way. Stomach ache is supposed to be alleviated by taking some crushed brackenseed taken with water from a fern growing on a tree. (I wouldn't try this one, bracken is very poisonous, the alleviation of pain may be permanent!)

Ferns are also favored by pixies, who can sometimes be found near them.

Mandrake (Mayapple)

Mandrake (so called because the root is said to shaped like a man - with two legs) was said to scream when pulled from the ground and that the person who pulled it would die. To avoid this, starving dogs were tied to the plant and then tempted to pull it out with food.

St. Johns Wort

Now in many herbal remedies. Noted for its calming effect, valuable for nervous disorders such as insomnia, depression and bedwetting. The oil has remarkable soothing and healing action when rubbed into painful joints and strained muscles. Celtic tradition held that the druids wore it in battle for invincibility - that'll be why we're ruled by druids then. Burn to exorcise negative spirits.  

The plant was believed to be able to move around to avoid having the flowers picked it. If caught the flowers help ward off evil spirits by hanging over the door. Originally known as the "sun god's flower" the Christians dedicated Midsummer to St. John the Baptist and renamed the plant St. John's Wort.

Considered a sacred fairy plant on the Isle of Man, where it is believed pixies will have revenge on you if you tread on it.

Californian Poppy  Eschscholzia californica

When the Spaniards who the first European explorers of California saw these poppies emblazoning the hills, they called the land "The Golden West". Not so much because of the wealth...that came later; but, because of the golden poppies! The Spaniards named this poppy, "copa de oro" or cup of gold.

Some of these California poppies were taken to Russia by Adelbert Chamisso, a botanist on a voyage to collect samples from the North American continent. Chamisso named the poppy after a Prussian doctor on the ship whose name was Dr. Elsholz, which was then Russianised to Eschscholz.


  • Eating primroses enables you to see fairies.

  • Touching a fairy rock with a primrose posy opens the way to fairyland and fairy gifts.

Cultivated Plants


Anemones used to be called wind flower possibly because they grew in areas of wind anemosis Greek for wind (anemometer - wind speed measuring device).

Anemones were associated with Adonis who was loved by Aphrodite. In an attempt to keep Adonis safe by hiding him in the Underworld, she was worried Adonis might be hurt whilst hunting, but he ignored her. One day, whilst hunting wild boar, Adonis shot a particularly large and nasty boar, who when hit by the arrows of Adonis, turned on him and gored him to death. Aphrodite got to him just as he died and whilst she wept over his lifeless body, Zeus created a flower that arose from the ground where the blood had soaked in. This is the origin of the Anemone.

Bleeding  Hearts Dicentra spectabilis

Buy Dicentra spectabilisBleeding hearts look like dripping hearts. If you turn the flower upside down though and slightly pull it apart, it looks just like a lady in the bath (well a bit like a lady in the bath). The botanical name is from the Greek di(two) and kentron (spur) spectabilis, from Latin, means spectacular, which they most certainly are!

There's a fairy story so I'm told about the bleeding heart flower, where each piece is a part of the story, something to do with a prince and princess. I've never heard it myself but asked if anyone else had on the home page of this site in response to an enquiry. The result ...... many emails asking if there was an answer, but no answer, until I received the story below...

I received this on the subject from Pat Manly on the West Coast of Canada:

When I was a little girl (about 45 years ago), another child told me this story.  Since then, I have never met anyone else who knew it.  My bleeding hearts are in bloom at the moment, which inspired me to do a Google search to see if I could track down a more poetic version. No luck so far, but I'll share what I have. To tell this story successfully, it is important to choose a blossom that is fully ripe (so that the pieces come apart without much struggle), but not yet beginning to fade (so that the stem and pistil remain attached at the end).  It also helps to pinch the petals and other bits away from the stem ever so carefully... I learned it this way:

    These are the rabbits that lived in her garden (the pink petals, separated and stood "ears up")These are the earrings she wore (an elongated question mark with the stamens attached)These are the slippers she wore on her feet (little oriental slip-ons perhaps?) And this (the remaining stem and pistil) is the dagger that stabbed her.

I was hoping to find a poem, as it seems to me it really ought to rhyme, but no luck so far.  I did find a story, which had to to with a young man falling in love with a beautiful princess, who spurned his affections.  In order to win her favour, he brings her gifts:  two pink rabbits, a pair of beautiful earrings, a pair of delicate oriental slippers, all to no avail.  Having failed to win her affection, he takes out his dagger and stabs himself through his heart.  She then realizes (too late!) that she truly loves him, so vows that her heart will eternally bleed in spring, hence the beautiful bleeding heart flower.

Pat then followed with a link to this version she found on the web, so many thanks are due!

Robert Fortune introduced Dicentra to the western world after the Treaty of Nanking of 1842 gave botanists and plant collectors somewhat better access to China.


Despite stories to the contrary, the camellia was not named for the notorious 19th century French courtesan Camille. Although, Camille used to carry a bouquet of camellias, for twenty-five days, the camellias were white, for five days, they were red, this was thought to indicate the five days of the month she was experiencing her menses. (We are not told how Camellias were kept in bloom year round, presumably they weren't.)

Carl Linnaeus named the flower for Georg Josef Kamel, changing the 'K' to a 'C' since there is no 'K' in Latin. Kamel had no contact with Camellias, probably never even saw one, but, he was a missionary who researched plants and animals of the Philippines. Linnaeus originally named the flower, Thea sinensis or Chinese tea, but on second thought, in his second volume of Species Platarum, he changed it to Camellia japonica.

Oriental green tea and the tea grown today in Australia is from the Camellia plant.

Language of flowers - Carnations, Colour messages.

For the most part, carnations express love, fascination, and distinction. Light red carnations represent admiration, while dark red denote deep love and affection. White carnations indicate pure love and good luck. Striped symbolize a regret that a love cannot be shared, purple carnations indicate capriciousness.

Pink carnations have the most symbolic and historical significance. According to Christian legend, carnations first appeared on Earth as Jesus carried the Cross. The Virgin Mary shed tears at Jesus' plight, and carnations sprang up from where her tears fell. Thus the pink carnation became the symbol of a mother's undying love, and in 1907 was chosen by Ann Jarvis as the emblem of Mother's Day.


Bringing a single daffodil into the house is to be avoided as it brings bad luck. A bunch ensures happiness. In Wales finding the first daffodil of Spring is expected to bring more gold than silver to your life and home during the following 12 months.


It is considered lucky to step on the first daisy of the year, and spring has arrived when it is possible to step on seven daisies with one footstep. To be avoided by young children as if the plant was uprooted the child would grow-up stunted in height.

The traditional flower to be used for "he loves me, he loves me not" enquiries. If a young girl grabs a whole bunch of daisies with the eyes shut she can then count how many years she would have to wait before she would marry (one per flower).

Passion Flower

Passion flowers are climbers and vigorous ones at that. Used in protection and love magic. When passion flower is used, it calms and brings peace to the home. You can sprinkle dried or fresh passion flower over the doorsteps of your house to keep harm away. If you carry some of the herb in an amulet bag, you will make friends easier since it will work to increase your personal charisma making you more attractive and more likable. Place Passion flower in a dream pillow and it will help you get a good nights sleep. Use in love spells to attract love. You can also burn it as an incense to promote understanding.

Honeysuckle- Lonicera

A wedding will soon occur if this plant is brought into a house. Placing the flower in a female's bedroom is reputed to encourage erotic dreams.


Love, purification. Used in love sachets and incense. Put 2 handfuls of lavender flowers into a square of cheese cloth and tie with a purple ribbon use this aromatic "washcloth" in place of your usual one. Lavender was thrown into Midsummer fires by witches as a sacrifice to the ancient Gods.

On a more mundane note, also used as an insect repellent.        


In the West Country (England) these are known as 'The Drunkards' due their reputation for turning people into alcoholics when the flowers are picked or even looked at for any length of time. 

The Welsh traditionally believed the flower could be used as a weather omen. If the flowers were not open early in the morning a storm was on the way. Used as a love charm, in wedding garlands and posies, it was also believed that rubbing the flower head on a wasp or bee sting would alleviate any pain.

Often used as companion plants with tomatoes to keep pests away.


Avoid picking these when you're in the middle of a spell of fine weather or the rain will soon return.


Roses are known as THE herb of love. Add rose bud petals to bath water to conjure up a lover. Put red rose petals in a red velvet bag and pin this under your clothes to attract love - or you can wear rosehips as beads to bring love to you. rose oil and rose incense are both used in love spells (if you're that way inclined). If you wash your hands with rose water before mixing love potions, the potions will be stronger. 

It's not all good news though, if the petals of a rose are consciously scattered on the ground it is thought to be unlucky, and if the petals fall from the plant when it is being held it is said that that person will die (the when is less clear).

Different colour roses have different meanings so you can use them to give someone a message discretely.

What the different rose colors mean:

    Red - I love you
    White -
    I love you not
    Yellow -
    I love another
    Moss rose -
    I admire you from afar
    Pink - My love for you is innocent
    Orange - I love you vigorously
    Amethyst - I will love you forever
    Wild - I love you because you are fair and innocent

Sage - Salvia

Attributed with many healing properties the botanical name comes from the Latin 'salvere' meaning 'to save". Used to relieve sore throats, gums, typhoid fever, measles name it. This plant was believed to have extremely powerful magical qualities and most ailments were treated with it at some time.


Frequently seen as an omen of death despite its springtime prettiness. It symbolizes purity but is said to be unlucky to bring the flower into the house if someone in the household is ill.


A flower mainly of ill. Wearing it around your neck can prevent drunkenness, but be careful as it is also believed to encourage fleas to move into the home.

Violets originally warned of epidemic or death. Blooming in the autumn the small dark green leaves and beautiful purple flowers require shaded moist ground that has been undisturbed for some time to flourish.

Napoleons favourite flower.

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