I’ll be honest. I love Christmas. It’s my favorite time of the year. I especially love the ancient rites and rituals associated with Yule and Winter Solstice, and the traditional and sacred use of herbs during this holiday. So in light of the darkest time of the year, I wanted to share a little herbal folklore to ring in the holiday season. Most of these herbs can be diffused as essential oils, and the resins can ground and burned as incense. And if I’ve left any tidbits out, please share what you know!
Frankincense (Boswellia carterii) – One of the gifts from the three wise men to the baby Jesus, Frankincense has been used for ceremonial and religious purposes for thousands of years by Jews, Persians, Arabs, Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians to name a few. In Egypt, women placed black Frankincense powder on their eyelids, and wore perfume on their hands. Frankincense has a calming, and uplifting nature that helps to dispel negative moods and obsessive or anxious behaviour. It is also known to relieve nightmares, promote confidence, and foster peacefulness. Historically, Frankincense has been used for ailments such tumors, ulcers, vomiting, dysentery, and fevers. When added to hot water, the inhallation of Frankincense steam helps to alleviate symptoms associated with bronchitis and laryngitis.
Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha, molmol) – Another of the gifts from the wise men to Jesus, Myrrh has a long history of use in magical and religious rites. It has been used for many centuries as incense and perfume, and is an important component of the holy oil of the Jews and the Kyphi of the Egyptians. Myrrh was once worth up to twice as much as Frankincense and gold! In Egypt, this resin was used for embalming, fumigating, and mummification purposes, and followers of Jesus anointed him with Myrrh after his crucifixion. Medicinally, Myrrh is a warming anti-microbial, astringent, and antiseptic. The tincture is useful as a gargle for mouth infections, ulcers, and gingivitis, as an appetite stimulant to excite gastric juices, and topically for skin abrasions.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) – The quintessential symbol of remembrance, friendship, and loyalty, Rosemary is thought to be one of the herbs in the manger of the baby Jesus. Rosemary is traditionally woven into bridal wreaths at weddings as a symbol of love and loyalty, and carried by mourners at funerals for remembrance. Rosemary has a rich history of use for religious rites, magical spells, and festive ceremonies. Internally, Rosemary is useful as a circulatory stimulant for low blood pressure, an anti-depressant for feelings of gloom and doom, and a carminitive for slow and sluggish digestion. Those with a more type-A demeanor (like me), may experience hyperactivity and excitability after drinking Rosemary tea (and I do).
Mistletoe (Viscum album) – A plant of the ancient druids, Mistletoe was believed to have magical and sacred properties as it grew spontaneously on trees and stayed green all year. A parasitic plant that grows on tree trunks and branches, Mistletoe penetrates its roots into the host tree in order to use its nutrients. In ancient times Mistletoe was thought to spontaneously appear on trees when bird dung fell onto the branches. Botanists later confirmed that Mistletoe seeds were spread as they moved through the digestive system of birds. Mistletoe has long been regarded as a symbol of fertility and life, as well as an aphrodisiac, and was traditionally hung indoors for protection during the winter solstice. Proper etiquette when kissing under the mistletoe is for the man to pick a berry after a kiss, and for the kissing to cease once all the berries are gone. Mistletoe is a medicinal tonic for hypertension with warm-bodied individuals; mental irritability with angry and hot-headed people; and pounding headaches with a sense of heat.
Whether you’re diffusing essential oils, making holiday crafts, or adorning your home with herbs, honouring the folklore of these magical plants can reacquaint you with the traditional, magic spirit of Christmas.