HERBAL PLANTS OF THE CHRISTMAS SEASON

by Jeanne Rose

AT THIS TIME of year there is an immense amount of folklore and symbolism.  The feast of St. Thomas on December 21, which coincidentally is also the usual date of the winter solstice as well as the beginning of winter, was formerly a great children's holiday since it was usually the first day of the Christmas holidays.  It is also a day when those persons who have a tendency to oversleep can cure themselves by saying a prayer to the Saint on St. Thomas Eve, (December 20), before they go to bed.  There is also a divination using the Onion on St. Thomas day.  In England in years past young girls peeled an Onion, wrapped it in a linen handkerchief, put it under their pillow, and said a prayer to St. Thomas to show them their own true love in a dream.  On St. Thomas Eve there is also a custom to go about begging for money and food for the coming Christmas holidays and in return for the charity the beggar is to give the giver a sprig of Mistletoe. 

Mistletoe itself is a plant that was held very sacred to the Druids.  It was cut by them at a certain time when the proper visions were seen and when the moon was correct.  It was often cut at the winter solstice (the shortest day of the year, the time 'when the sun begins its return') to protect whoever held it (i.e., Mistletoe) from all evil, and it was given to everyone to announce the new year (not New Years, but the new year as recognized from the time when the days began to grow in length).  Holly, considered anathema to witches, was hung over doorways, in windows, and next to the chimney, lest a witch enter through these openings.  The Druids, who venerated the sun, held Holly sacred since the sun never deserted its evergreen leaves.

Mistletoe, comes from the word meaning 'different twig', referring to the plant's habit of growing on wood rather than its own.  It is said that originally it was a tree when it's wood was used for the Cross of Christ, it shrank to its present form and was doomed to live on the strength of others.  It too, according to Druid culture, was holy.  Its white berries are sometimes called Frigga's tears for the Norse goddess who grieved so bitterly over the death of her son, killed by an arrow made from the magic Mistletoe, that the gods took pity upon her and restored her mischievious son to life.  Thereafter, Mistletoe would be a plant of peace, she decreed, and those who passed beneath it should exchange a kiss.

Evergreens, symbols of immortality, have been an aspect of winter festivals from primitive times.  Called trees of sanctuary, Junipers were believed to have sheltered the Holy Family in their flight, and now they keep from harm all who need help.  In the Middle Ages, Juniper was burned and the sap spread above doors, to fend off demons, and Junipers were planted at doorways to protect the home from witches.  As Adelma Simmons says in her Christmas Herbal, "Bound by the devil's law to count the needles before they entered, witches found the task too onerous and so searched out unprotected entrances."

Rosemary recalls the journey of the Holy Family to find the shelter for the birth of Christ.  She laid her blue cloak over the fragrant Rosemary bush and its flowers thereafter turned from white to blue in her honor.

A manger herb, Thyme, along with Rosemary, Bedstraw and Pennyroyal, are used in home decorations.  These fragrant herbs had a pleasing antiseptic fragrance the kept the bed of the baby Jesus wholesome, free from vermin.  Thyme is a symbol of bravery and associated with Jesus as he would have to endure much suffering and have to be courageous and patient.  Fragrant Bedstraw spread upon the ground protected those who slept upon it from disease and harm from the evil one.  Pennyroyal was a protection from giddiness as well as put into the bet to keep it clean.

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From The Seasonal Herbal, an unpublished book by Jeanne Rose, 1981 and 1987.

These fragrant herbs can be used whole, or their essential oils can be burned or diffused throughout the household.  I like to use an aromatic diffusor that breaks down the oils into a fine mist that disperses into the room to create a clean and healing environment.  This diffusor is rather like a vaporizer but cleaner, safer and cheaper to use.  The diffusor & essential oils are availalble from Leydet Aromatics, PO Box 2354, Fair Oaks, CA  as well as Herbal BodyWorks 219 Carl Street, San Francisco, CA  94117.

The Jeanne Rose Aromatherapy Kit Victorian Potpourri is also known as "Holiday Scents" and contains Anise, Cinnamon, Gifts of the Magi, Christmas Fir, Cedarwood & Orange Peel!

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