By Ashley Litecky Elenbaas, MS, (RH)AHG
Ancient myths from around the world are ripe with stories of famous goddesses using herbs for magic, love, and for healing. Here are three herbs you can use to connect to the rituals and medicines of these plant loving goddesses.
1. Chaste Tree - Vitex agnus castus
For over 2500 years chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus) has been used for women’s health, fertility and marriage rituals. Chaste tree is associated with the Greek goddesses Hera, the protectress of the home, marriage, and fidelity, and Demeter, the goddess of the harvest, fertility and the sacrament of marriage. Chaste tree was a central piece of the ancient Greek festival Thesmophoria held in honor of Demeter. During this festival women remained "chaste" and used chaste tree blossoms and branches for adornment and decorated Demeter's temple with bows of its bright purple flowers. In Rome, the vestal virgins carried twigs of chaste tree as a symbol of their chastity and faithfulness to the divine spirit. Newlyweds were crowned with chaste flowers to show their fidelity to one another and to their vows.
We can enjoy the beauty of chaste tree and honor the ancient practice of chastity not just by refraining from sexual activity but by applying chasteness to how we use our mental, physical, emotional and spiritual energies. We can practice modesty in how we spend our resources, both inner and outer. We can use this plant to call upon the powers of Hera and Demeter to strengthen our fertility, marriages, the regenerative cycles found in nature, and to reinspire our fidelity to a relationship or our fidelity to a cause.
Is Vitex agnus-castus your Goddess Helper Plant? Are you looking to protect or safeguard a sacred union or bond that you share with another person or an important cause? Would you like support in creating healthy cycles and rhythms in your life? Are you looking to increase your physical or creative fertility?
Using the Medicine: Place a few sprigs of chaste tree on an altar and say a prayer every night for the protection of your loved ones and family. Wear the flowers in your hair or as an amulet to remind you to conserve your emotional and material resources. Chaste tree berries are made into a tincture that can be taken daily to help women regulate their moon cycles, balance deep body rhythms, and nourish psychic streams of creativity. Take 3 drops of a tincture each day for an energetic nudge and 15 drops a day for fertility and help with regulating hormonal cycles.
2. Vervain -Verbena officinalis
The Egyptian goddess Isis was worshipped as the ideal mother and wife as well as the patroness of nature and magic. When her husband Osiris was murdered she gathered his pieces and performed a ritual to bring him back to life. For every tear she shed during this process a sacred vervain plant was born in its place. This plant is often called “tears of Isis” and is considered to be a plant held under her rulership.
With a strong upright stem and colorful purple flowers this plant continues to be used by women around the world in cleansing rituals and ceremonies. As a tea vervain strengthens the nerves for any hard work ahead. The name Verbena means “altar plant” and the common name “vervain” comes from the Celtic term “ferfaen; “meaning “to drive away obstructions.” This is a wonderful herb to carry as a talisman to drive obstacles out of your way.
Is Verbena officinalis your Goddess Helper Plant? Are you healing from a deep loss? Do you need help relaxing and letting go of the past? Do you feel blocked from moving forward or experience anxiety around all of the things that could-go-wrong?
Using the Medicine: Vervain makes a wonderful altar plant and is also a natural repellent of negative energy (and insects!). Place a few sprigs on your altar and tie them with a red string. Surround the vervain with pictures of Isis and Osiris and ask Isis, the goddess of nature and magic, for her support in removing your worries and obstacles. Medicinally vervain is quite bitter and can be prepared as an herbal tea or can be taken as a tincture. Use I tsp of dried herb to make a tea or take 10 – 15 drops of a tincture. Both forms will ease tension, worry, and stress and will give you the strength of Isis to carry out the tasks required of you no matter how hard they may be.
3. Sacred Lotus - Nelumbo nucifera
The Hindu goddess Lakshmi is the embodiment of beauty, love, and spiritual and material prosperity. In one Hindu myth she emerges from a sea of churning milk on a pink lotus flower as the manifestation of amrita or the divine nectar said to bring bliss and loveliness to the world. Lakshmi in Sanskrit is derived from the root word laks and ananlaksa, which means “to perceive, observe” and “goal, aim, objective,” respectively. Together these give the meaning “to know and understand your goal” and this is just what Lakshmi and the medicine of the lotus flower provide.
The lotus flowers in her hands represent the journey that the lotus must make to reach its mark of completion. The lotus begins its journey in the dark muddy underworld of ravines and ponds and slowly works its way toward the light until it reaches the water’s surface where it blooms unsullied by the mud below. The spiritual teaching of the lotus helps us stay the course even when life is muddy and dark. Lakshmi and the lotus teach us that through diligence and faith we will reach our goals and find our time in the sun. The medicine of the lotus leaf is used for fertility in females, virility in males, is a gentle relaxant, antioxidant, helps with sleep, and is used in many rituals and culinary dishes.
Is Nelumbo nucifera your Goddess Helper Plant? Are you feeling unsettled, like you’ve lost the plot? Are you in need of direction, support, and resources? Do you feel stuck in the mud and without the resources to get where you need to go? Are you running on empty and need nourishment and need to revitalize your deep energy reserves?
Using the Medicine: Sprinkle lotus flowers on an altar with an image of Lakshmi or place a statue of Lakshmi holding her lotus flowers in a prominent place that you see each day. Ask her to show you symbols throughout your day to help you see your way forward and to know your goal. You can also make an infusion of the lotus petal tea and drink every evening before bed to help you relax. Ask Lakshmi to bring magic and creative solutions to you in your dreams.
Ashley Litecky Elenbaas is a Clinical Herbalist and owner of Sky House Yoga, a donation-based wellness collective in Silver Spring, Maryland. www.skyhouseyoga.com