Plant Magic is a gorgeous book and the photo above doesn’t do it justice, with so many details picked out in shiny foil. It’s also a real treasure trove of the history of the use of plants in magic and the beliefs people held (and sometimes still do) about the magical properties of plants.
Gregory Kenicer is a botanist and lecturer at the Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh so he certainly knows what he’s talking about. He puts his extensive knowledge to great use in this comprehensive and fascinating look at plants and their association with magic. From an introduction about the importance of plants to humankind and explaining different kinds of magical beliefs, Dr Kenicer then moves on to look more closely at various categories of trees and plants and how they are regarded throughout the world with themes such as alchemy, blessed plants, cursed plants and magical medicine.
This probably isn’t a book that you will want to read through in one go but rather one to dip in and out of, looking up particular plants you are interested in. Be warned though, that you may find yourself being caught up for some time as there are just so many fascinating facts and stories included! I must also mention that there are beautiful line drawing illustrations throughout the book by talented artists Sharon Tingey and Jacqui Pestell.
To give you a flavour of the book, here are a few facts I found out about some of the plants in my garden:
Yew – this tree with poisonous berries is widely found in Churchyards where it was believed it would ward off evil spirits but also perhaps because they were an evergreen symbol of life. But did you know that their Latin name (Taxus) is thought to come from the word for a bow as the boughs were used to make bows? The word is also linked with the word toxic and arrows used by archers were often poisoned when used in battles.
Lavender – one of my favourite plants. It self seeds all over the place in our garden and the self seeded plants tend to do much better than the ones we plant! Throughout Europe and North Africa from mediaeval times, Lavender has been considered a blessed or lucky plant with the fragrance thought to drive away evil.
Honeysuckle – honeysuckle is another plant considered to be blessed or lucky, especially in Scotland. One tradition saw children passed through hoops made from honeysuckle cut during the waxing moon in March. This was thought to give protection from consumption/tuberculosis.
Bramble – we have a lot of brambles growing wild in the garden and although they can be a pain (literally!) if they scratch you, we keep them because we love to use the fruit in Autumn. Perhaps we should be more careful though because it’s thought that the Devil spits or pees on the fruit at Michaelmas making them inedible! There’s also a legend from St Patrick which says that a Lady ate a single bramble when she should have been fasting. She was then cursed her with a hunger which made her eat her servant and her horse!
Rosemary – one of my favourite herbs, I love the smell of it. It was considered as a remedy for many health complaints. In the western Mediterranean, it was considered effective against the evil eye and worn round the neck. I particularly liked the story of the Iberian Queen who gave birth to a rosemary bush which then produced a magical, beautiful princess. When the plant wilted, it was only restored to life when doused with the blood of slain dragons.
Plant Magic is an absolutely fascinating book with a wealth of information and stories which I highly recommend to anyone interested in folklore. I want to end by quoting some wise words from the introduction to the book. This is something we all need to remember whatever our beliefs about the magical or healing properties of plants:
“We are linked by our common bonds of humanity and reliance on plants – and perhaps that is part of their true magic.”
My thanks to Kelly at Love Books Tours for the invitation to take part in the tour and the review copy of the book. You can order a copy of the book here: Plant Magic
From the back of the book
An informative and entertaining look at why plants have been used in magic and what that tells us about people and plants in a post-magic world.
With chapters on subjects as diverse as Witchcraft, Curses and Blessings, Divination, the Plants of Faery, Hallucinogens, Divine Plants in the Christian and Pagan traditions and a Plant Bestiary, Greg Kenicer’s book is an erudite and informative look at how and why various plants have had a role in Europe’s supernatural and magical traditions.
Individual entries look at particular plants combining botanical analysis with historical examples and anecdote to explain exactly why each plant came to be used in this way. Considerations of dangers and actual efficacy cast light on how modern science is now re-examining the uses of many of the plants and how the evolution of the plants themselves has been influenced by our use of them.
Whether Foxglove or Mandrake, Hawthorn or Aspen, Rowan or Oak, St. John’s Wort or Bird Cherry, Plant Magic shines a bright and fascinating new light on dozens of familiar plants.
About the author
Dr. Greg J Kenicer is the author of Plant Magic. He is also a botanist and a lecturer at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. He is an expert in the evolution and diversity of peas and beans but the fantastical relationship between plants and people is where his heart really lies.