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Nine Sacred Anglo-Saxon Herbs

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The Nine Herbs Charm is an Old English charm recorded in the 10th-century Lacnunga manuscript. The charm is intended for the treatment of poisoning and infection by a preparation of nine herbs.

This Anglo-Saxon poem contains references to Christian and English Pagan elements, including a mention of the major Germanic god Woden.

According to R. K. Gordon, the poem is “clearly an old heathen thing which has been subjected to Christian censorship.” Malcolm Laurence Cameron states that chanting the poem aloud results in a “marvellously incantatory effect”.

 

The charm references nine herbs:

  • Mucgwyrt Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)
  • Attorlaðe (identified as cockspur grass (Echinochloa crus-galli) by R. K. Gordon; partially defined by others as betony (Stachys officinalis)
  • Stune Lamb’s cress (Cardamine hirsuta)
  • Wegbrade Plantain (Plantago)
  • Mægðe Mayweed (Matricaria)
  • Stiðe Nettle (Urtica)
  • Wergulu Crab-apple (Malus)
  • Fille (Thyme)
  • Finule Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)

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At the end of the charm, prose instructions are given to take the above-mentioned herbs, crush them to dust, and to mix them with old soap and apple juice. Further instructions are given to make a paste from water and ashes, boil fennel into the paste, bathe it with beaten egg – both before and after the prepared salve is applied.

Further, the charm directs the reader to sing the charm three times over each of the herbs as well as the apple before they are prepared, into the mouth of the wounded, both of their ears, and over the wound itself prior to the application of the salve.

 

MUGWORTMUGWORT. Artemisia vulgaris – guards against the unseen power of evil. The dried leaves stuffed in a pillow bring sweet dreams, lend vigor when steeped in bath water, and prevent fatigue on a long journey.

Remember, Mugwort, what you made known,
What you arranged at the Great proclamation.
You were called Una, the oldest of herbs,
you have power against three and against thirty,
you have power against poison and against infection,
you have power against the loathsome foe roving through the land.

 


 

PLANTAINPLANTAIN. Plantago major – is the Saxon waybroad in old herbals, for it thrives beside roadways. Fresh leaves draw out infections, halt bleeding in minor wounds, and ease discomfort from burns and stings.

And you, Plantain, mother of herbs,
Open from the east, mighty inside.
over you chariots creaked, over you queens rode,
over you brides cried out, over you bulls snorted.
You withstood all of them, you dashed against them.
May you likewise withstand poison and infection

 


 

WATERCRESSWATERCRESS. Nasturtium officinalis – supplies a generous amount of Vitamin C. Its juice added to water is a tonic to erase listlessness.

‘Stune’ is the name of this herb, it grew on a stone,
it stands up against poison, it dashes against poison,
it drives out the hostile one, it casts out poison.

 


 

BETONYBETONY. Stachys betonica – appears as the fourth herb in later versions of the Nine Herbs Charm. Atterlothe of the original listing defies translation. Betony, however, serves well as a substitute, for it was anciently reguarded as a cure for all ills of the body and the soul.

**** Atterlothe? The word has defied translation, but it is likely to be a redundant name for something else. Its place in later versions of the nine herbs charm was taken by Betony, {Betonica officinalis] which in traditional herbal medicine was known as a general tonic.

 


 

CHAMOMILECHAMOMILE. Anthemis nobilis – never fails to lift the spirits with its sweet scent. Maythen, as it was known to the Saxons, is the “plants’ physician”, as it revives ailing plants when set near them. Humans enjoy its benefits as well.

Remember, Chamomile, what you made known,
what you accomplished at Alorford,
that never a man should lose his life from infection
after Chamomile was prepared for his food.

 


 

NETTLENETTLE. Urtica dioica – serves many useful purposes. The leaves staunch bleeding and soothe burns. Its seeds stimulate appetite. Nettle juice is an excellent hair lotion.

This is the herb that is called ‘Wergulu’.
A seal sent it across the sea-right,
a vexation to poison, a help to others.
it stands against pain, it dashes against poison,
it has power against three and against thirty,
against the hand of a fiend and against mighty devices,
against the spell of mean creatures.

 


 

CRAB APPLECRAB APPLE. Pyrus malus – has long been associated with health and renewal. The original wild apple from which all varieties derive is said to promote deep sleep and increase energy.

There the Apple accomplished it against poison
that she [the loathsome serpent] would never dwell in the house.

 


 

CHERVILCHERVIL. Anthriscus cerefolium – may possess a powerful brain stimulant. It was once the sovereign remedy to restore the will to live.

Chervil and Fennell, two very mighty one.
They were created by the wise Lord,
holy in heaven as He hung;
He set and sent them to the seven worlds,
to the wretched and the fortunate, as a help to all.

 


 

FENNELFENNEL. Foeniculum vulgare – conveys longevity, gives strength and courage while its pleasant aroma discourages evil spirits. Fennel in the diet promotes good eyesight and fights obesity.

 

 

 

They were created by the wise Lord,
holy in heaven as He hung;
He set and sent them to the seven worlds,
to the wretched and the fortunate, as a help to all.
It stands against pain, it fights against poison,
it avails against 3 and against 30,
against foe´s hand and against noble scheming,
against enchantment of vile creatures.

Now there nine herbs have power against nine evil spirits,
against nine poisons and against nine infections:
Against the red poison, against the foul poison,
against the white poison, against the pale blue poison,
against the yellow poison, against the green poison,
against the black poison, against the blue poison,
against the brown poison, against the crimson poison,
against worm-blister, against water-blister,
against thorn-blister, against thistle-blister,
against ice-blister, against poison-blister,

If any poison comes flying from the east,
or any from the north, or any from the south,
or any from the west among the people.
Christ stood over diseases of every kind.

The poem from a 10th century Anglo-Saxon manuscript.

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