Magic in the Ditches

I’ll admit it — I love most of the plants that reasonable people consider weeds.  I especially love the fluffy floaty kinds that generate horrendous allergies in most of my friends.  I can’t help it!  I root for the underdog.

I never really learned what most of the common plants around my neighborhood were except for those I could eat, like blueberries, black raspberries, nasturtium, marigold, and Queen Anne’s Lace – whose roots are wild carrot (sooo delicious, unless you accidentally confuse it with hemlock).

I found out in my teens that my grandmother Alma used to know the common and Latin names for every plant in the state (or so it seemed).  She made a point to learn them all when she was 14 and left home to be a domestic and a schoolteacher in a one-room school house, a few miles horseback ride from the house where she boarded.  (*grin* It sounds so romantic put like that, but I can only imagine the difficulty of the winters.)  When she passed away, I was only just beginning to get to know her — the real Alma behind the plump and airy Grandma persona — so I made a resolution to try and learn about the plants around me in her honor.

I have another confession.  I didn’t do very well on that resolution.  But in plucky midwestern fashion, against the odds, I decided to give it another go.  I started on a good foot when I took some courses in essential oil therapies, learning the important differences between species of plants that may share common names but produce vastly different oils.  Then baby steps… I bought a tree and wildflower identification guide for my state, fell madly in love with the catalpa trees in the city, then trekked off with my guide under my arm into the woods.  I didn’t go until fall was already creeping in, but I was still able to spot and identify over 20 different species of wildflowers on my walk in one afternoon.  Not only did it boost my confidence in the possibility that I can still learn these things, it felt so rewarding to walk the same paths but suddenly feel like I was surrounded by dear friends because I recognized their faces and knew them by name.  Somehow that experience, and the awe of knowing whoever or whatever created all of them also created me reaffirmed my devotion to the beauty, mystery and connection of the natural world.

Okay, I’m done being misty… probably.  But I can’t promise I won’t still wax poetic. :)

Here are a few of the common faces of my neighborhood of which I am now especially fond:

common yarrowachillea millefolium – named for the legend that Achilles used this herb to treat bleeding wounds during the Trojan war.  I read a rather lovely albeit frightening love spell with yarrow that tells you whether he loves you – by making your nose bleed endlessly.  According to Cunningham, an infusion of yarrow flowers if drunk will improve psychic powers.  This one is easy to spot because of its feathery, fern-like leaves.

new england aster & pearly everlasting

indian pipemonotropa uniflora – a waxy, bell-shaped single flower on a thick stalk, looking rather like an alien fungus

canada goldenrod
solidago cnadensis – a staple of the fields and prairies.

new england asteraster novae-angliae – charming purple stars with yellow centers

pearly everlasting
anaphalis margaritacea – white pearl-shaped buds with yellow centers, like clusters of tiny lotuses

common tansytanacetium vulgare – heavy clumps of bright yellow button flowers. the leaves of the tansy are often used as a substitute for sage in sachets, prompting me to wonder if they could be used as a sage substitute in magical workings.  be wary, however, as this flower contains a toxic oil.

field & bull thistlecirsium discolor & vulgare – gorgeous, purple and spiny, but the field thistle is slightly less prickly. In Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs, he gives this spell to call the spirits: place some thistle in boiling water.  remove from the heat and lie or sit beside the pot.  As the steam rises, call the spirits and listen carefully – they may answer your questions.

orange hawkweed

evening primroseoenothera biennis – bright yellow with four petals, has a rather intriguing x-shaped center (sigma) which I’m sure could be used symbolically somehow, eh? also pollinated by the sphinx moths at night, a rather romantic and mysterious notion. this plant was one of three named for me in a dream once years ago.

prairie cloverdalea candida – a slim and unassuming flower but it can send roots over five feet deep into the prairie soil in search of water.  a great emblem for hidden strength and determination if I ever saw one.

orange hawkweed – hieracium aurantiacum  – colorfully also called “devil’s paintbrush” or “king-devil,” this flower was named hawkweed after a folk belief that hawks ate the flowers to improve their vision.  perhaps a nice flower for your altar when you wish to see beyond the veil?

swamp buttercupranunculus hispidus – delicate and cheerful, with five cupped petals.  I was excited to find three of these on my walk.


Speaking of plants that give out fluffy drifting sneeze-inducing seeds, I thought it would be fun sometime to use them for a spell – focusing your intentions on the blossom as a whole, then plucking and releasing them in the wind or blowing on them to watch them fly off carrying a million little seeds to grow and manifest your desires.  Then, of course, I realized everyone and their mother does that all the time, wishing on dandelions.  I am more in love with that practice now than I ever was before, and now I find myself driven to make wishes on every aster, thistle and milkweed I pass as well!

In all, it was a lovely afternoon, I hugged some trees, spun around in some circles and enjoyed seeing, truly, the wealth of magical and wild resources sprouting up all around in those beautiful weedy ditches.

There was also this giant fungus that felt like the chin of a beluga whale, or so I imagined (I’ve never met a beluga – I’m landlocked).

baby beluga

I realize I’m still learning, so if you see anything here I’ve incorrectly identified, please let me know.  :)

Hope all is well for you!