We’ve been talking about magic a lot on Pan Society. Perhaps because we are upon one of the most magical times of the year, Summer Solstice. So, it’s a good time to talk about some of the magical herbs that are associated with this time of year.
Getting to know the plants, their properties, and associated gathering times is a great way to step into the wheel of life. In many cultures, this time of midsummer is a great time to give thanks. The earth is fertile and abundant and sharing her gifts with us. Her magical plants are part of that wonderful harvest. This is a time for gathering above ground plants, so let’s look at what’s available now.
St. John’s Wort
St. John’s wort is the most common magical herb. It’s bright yellow, star shaped flower looks like the sun and is traditionally the most important and first gathered. We can trace the tradition of gathering St. John’s wort now back to ancient Greece. However, it’s found throughout the world even still today.
St. John’s wort is used in modern times mainly as an anti-depressant. In the ancient world it was promoted for its wound healing properties. It may also have anti microbial properties. It’s most often used as a tea, but is also hung as an adornment over icons of St. John the Baptist on midummer (June 23 or 24th) to honor him and banish evil from home or places of worship. In Wales, it is hung throughout the house to bring in peace, prosperity, health to the animals, and a bountiful harvest.
If you want to get really traditional, you can harvest this while naked! Like many of the Pan Society holy days, Summer Solstice has a fertility component. It’s a prime time for love magic. Many of these charms and rituals use St. John’s wort to protect against heartbreak and give one the courage to make a move.
The second most popular plant associated with the Summer Solstice is the sunflower. Could there be a more obvious connection than the sunflower? They bring bright and cheerful energy like the sun. As they grow, they turn to face the sun, following it as it moves across the sky. They remind us to look up. Turn towards the light.
Sunflowers are prized for their food and oil. They are also a source of yellow and orange dye. Medicinally they have antimalarial properties. Magically they are used for bringing fertility, good luck, truth, loyalty, and honesty. Like the sun, they hide nothing and spread cheer, so it’s easy to see how these association came to be.
Stonecrop, Vervain, and Yarrow
These herbs are still gathered in Celtic lands and hung about the house for protection against the evil eye and death. The Summer Solstice is a liminal time when the veil between worlds is thin. Spirits are about.
It’s helpful to understand the animist views on death as a time of transition to really understand this, but the short version is that if spirits don’t fully cross over – because they are restless about how they lived, they are not well tended by the living during their transition to the Other World, or they just haven’t been dead long enough – they can “pollute” the living. These herbs help to purify spaces and keep them away.
Rosemary, Thyme, Marjoram, Hyssop, and Sage
After the coming of Christianity, the Summer Solstice observation was moved to midsummer’s eve (June 23) and made into a saints day, St. John’s Day. This was done historically in many cultures when the conquering culture came to new lands as it made it easier for the new religion to take hold. In Provence, France the gathering of rosemary, thyme, marjoram, hyssop, and sage was part of this celebration. They infused them to heal the body and spirit.
If you don’t want to be the object of someone else’s spells, gather some elderberry. Elderberry isn’t yet available where I am, but in places where it is, it’s used for warding off enchantments. If you want to see the fey, sit under an elder tree on the Summer Solstice. The spirit of Elder is a gatekeeper between the realms of life and death. Apparently she can also open doorways to the non-apparent world.
Another way to avoid enchantments is to make yourself invisible! That’s fern seed’s traditional use. If you collect the seeds at midnight on midsummer, you can also wish upon them.
Summer is the season of heat and fire. Lavender’s blue flowers help to cool things down. The flowers are strewn in the Summer Solstice bonfire to bring peace and serenity to the celebration. They can cool down anger and irritability as well. Adding it to your bathwater can help you sleep.
The Summer Solstice happens as the Sun is entering the sign of Cancer. Cancer is ruled by the Moon. So although it’s mainly a solar holiday, it does have a lunar component too. In keeping with the idea of balance, this is appropriate. And mugwort is a moon herb.
The Summer Solstice is a time for divination. Peering into the unknown is a strength of the moon. Mugwort leads the way by opening the psychic channels. Drinking mugwort on the night of the Solstice can help you see into the darkness. Placing the leaves under your pillow can give you prophetic dreams.
Strewing mugwort into the Solstice bonfire can cleanse and heal.
The moon is feminine, and mugwort is also used to help regulate female hormones. This can help regulate menstruation and reduce heavy periods. When used in moxibustion, it moves energy out of the body and relieves pain.
Mullein is another plant with bright yellow flowers that glow like the sun. This is traditionally burned in the Solstice fire for protection. The ashes are gathered and used in protection rituals and for healing charms throughout the year.
Mullein is best known as a cold remedy and is often combined with Elder and drank as a tea. It can also be used topically for healing dry skin. As a compress or salve, it can be used on boils, bruises, inflammation, eczema, joint pain, sciatica, and hemorrhoids. If you have an ear infection, mullein and garlic steeped oil placed in the ear will reduce pain and heal the infection.
Whether your Summer Solstice includes any casting of magic, I hope it’s a magical day. Be sure to also check out our article about Summer Solstice recipes!