Yarrow: Herbe de St. Joseph, Carpenter’s Weed

yarrowThe use of yarrow as a healing herb and magical plant is well documented. It has been utilized by Pagans and Christians alike. The Latin name (Achillea millefolium) is derived from the Greek hero Achilles who, legend has it, carried yarrow with him into battle and used it to stop the flow of blood from the wounds of his soldiers. This is where two of it’s nicknames come from: staunchweed and soldier’s woundwort.

The Christianized version of this tale is connected to the French name of yarrow: herbe de St. Joseph. Legend has it that after Joseph hurt himself while working in his carpenter’s shop, the infant Jesus brought him some yarrow and instantly healed the wound. Clearly, this is an adapted version of Achilles story, but I think it’s really fun!

The biggest misconception online regarding yarrow is that it was part of the Anglo-Saxon 9 herbs charm to ward off illness and the demonic. This charm was used by both Pagans and Christians. Unless someone can cite a source for this, my understanding is that the 9 herbs were mugwort, plantain, watercress, chamomile, stinging nettle, crab apple, chervil, fennel and “attorlothe” which is identified as viper’s bulgos, cockspur grass, betony or black nightshade. Yarrow is nowhere to be found among the nine herbs so it appears to be a case of too many people “copy and pasting” from another web site without verifying the source! (I welcome anyone with more info than I could gather here!)

Two of the most interesting ancient Christians spells using yarrow are one for demonic possession and another for love. (I recommend neither!) Regarding the first, yarrow was part of a bundle of 13 herbs that were made into a “spew drink” which caused the inflicted to allegedly vomit out the demonic spirit! Seven masses were said over this herbal concoction to which garlic and holy water were added. The finishing touch was that is was supposed to be drunk from an upside down church bell. You gotta admit it’s pretty dramatic!

In the love spell, a girl was supposed to pick a sprig of yarrow from the grave of a deceased young man, reciting the following poem:

Yarrow, sweet Yarrow, the first I have found,
In the name of Jesus Christ, I pluck it from the ground.
As Jesus loved sweet Mary and took her for his dear,
So in a dream this night,
I hope my true love will appear.

She then was told to place the sprig under her pillow until her true loved appeared. This charm is interesting because it is a thinly veiled ancient Pagan charm with the names of Jesus and Mary added to it. This is yet another piece of evidence that supports my theory that many converts to Christianity brought their Pagan traditions with them into the Christian faith. The Church was unable to suppress these traditions so they adapted and incorporated them into the rites and practices of the Church.

The final interesting use of yarrow I came across was found on http://www.sacredearth.com.  They wrote “A special soup of herbs is the traditional dish for Maundy Thursday, the Thursday before Easter. This soup contained 9 holy healing herbs, one of which is Yarrow. This soup was believed to ward off all sickness and disease and dispel all evil influences for the whole of the coming year.” I had never heard of this before but it fits the history of the use of yarrow quite well.

Copyright © 2017 by David Taliesin, http://www.sabbatsandsabbaths.com

About David Taliesin

My name is David Taliesin. I'm an writer, teacher and retreat leader who explores the connections between Christian and Pagan Spirituality. E-mail me with any personal comments you'd like to share and I will do my best to answer them. You can also contact me through my Facebook page www.facebook.com/davidtaliesinauthor
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