Friday, February 11, 2011

"Vervain and Dill - Hinder witches of their will."

“Therewith her Veruayne and her Dill, That hindreth Witches of their will“ (Drayton, Nymphidia, 1627)

Okay, so what does that mean?  If you're a witch, don't grow vervain or dill?  Naw, I don't think so.  

Common Vervain (Verbena Officinalis) has long been associated with supernatural and divine forces. It was called "tears of Isis" in ancient Egypt, and later on in Rome it was known as "Juno's tears".  In ancient Greece, it was dedicated to Eos Erigineia.  In the early Christian era, folk legend stated that Common Vervain (V. officinalis) was used to staunch Jesus' wounds after his removal from the cross. It was consequently called "Holy Herb". 

The names for Common Vervain in many Central and Eastern European languages often associate it with iron. These include for example the Dutch "iron-hardener", Danish "medical ironwort", German "true ironherb", Slovak  "medical ironherb", and Hungarian  "iron grass".

Verbena is one of those garden essentials that bloom from spring to fall with very little fuss.  It grows in clumps that reach a height of six to ten inches. Flowers can be mauve, purple, white, pink, apricot or red. Verbena is popular in hanging baskets, and looks great in window boxes, rock gardens, or as an edging. You'll find them in your local garden center in little pots and big hanging baskets, but you don't need to spend a lot of money on verbena because they are easy to grow from seeds.

As a medicinal plant Vervain helps digestion, calms headaches and nervousness, supports a healthy menstruation, and is an excellent circulatory tonic against varicose and heumorroids. It is also used for gastric pains, insufficiency of lacteous secretion, arterial hypertension, fever, rheumatism, and migraine. External uses include the treatment of wounds, cellulitis, and contusions.
In Europe, Vervain is widely used in purfumes, soaps, candles, tea, candy, desserts, pastries, and a lovely green liqueur called Verveine, (I think we may be missing out on something.) 

Dill  (Anethum graveolens ) was used in the Middle Ages in charms against witchcraft.  It was known as a medicinal herb to the ancient Greeks and Romans, where soldiers placed burned dill seeds on their wounds to promote healing. Medieval Europe could not grow it fast enough for love potions, casting spells and for protection against witchcraft. Carrying a bag of dried dill over the heart was considered protection against hexes.

Dill will grow to about 2 1/2 feet high, it resembles fennel, but smaller, with the same feathery leaves. When used as a companion plant, dill draws in many beneficial insects as the flower goes to seed. And naturally, it makes a good companion plant for cucumbers. It should not be planted near carrots or tomatoes, however.

The term "dill weed" refers to the green leaves (and sometimes stems) of the plant. "Dill seed" isn't actually a seed, it is the flat, dark brown oval shaped whole fruit of the herb. Dill weed and dill seed have different chemical compositions, different uses in cooking, and different applications in herbal healing. 

The whole plant is aromatic and used to flavor many foods, such as gravlax, a Nordic appetizer made with raw salmon that looks soooo good! (I'll try making it someday and report back), borscht and other soups, and pickles. Dill is best when used fresh, as it loses its flavor rapidly if dried.

The seeds are produced in great quantities. They are very pungent and bitter in taste and very light, an ounce containing over 25,000 seeds. The seed is harvested by cutting the flower heads off the stalks when the seed is beginning to ripen. The seed heads are placed upside down in a paper bag and left in a warm dry place for a week. The seeds then separate from the stems easily for storage in an airtight container.

If you want to grow dill, you'll have no trouble with this stalwart herb.  Dill likes a moist, well-drained soil in full sun, although it grows on most kinds of soils. Dill thrives on neglect!  Stress on the plant by heat or drought improves its flavor. If you let dill come up on its own, it will mature and go to seed before your cucumbers mature. So if you want to use dill in pickling, plant it and the cucumbers at the same time.

In medicine dill seeds were used to soothe the stomach after meals. Drinking dill tea is recommended to overcome insomnia.  Both dill fruit and oil of dill possess stimulant, aromatic, carminative and stomachic properties. Oil of Dill is used in mixtures, but its most common use is in the preparation of Dill Water, used to relieve flatulence and colic in infants.  Oil of Dill is also employed for perfuming soaps.  Dill both settles the stomach and is mildly antibacterial. The August 2005 edition of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry confirmed the usefulness of dill in stopping growth of various bacteria, yeast, and molds.

So, it looks like both Vervain and Dill are extremely good choices for the witch's medicinal herb garden, I doubt any modern witch will be "hindered" by these delectable herbs.

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