Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Blobottel - Blue Cornflower

die Blobottel: Blue Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus). The significance of this flower has wide interpretations across the German-speaking lands. The meanings of many symbols, particularly those that relate to Prussia, are based in historical events that occur after the Migration. However, certain aspects of the flower, particularly those that preserve the color and overall essence of the flower when dried, make it a symbol of life. Likewise, the tenderness of the flower and its susceptibility to frost make it a symbol of the preciousness and fragility of life. The presence of Cornflower Queens or cornflowers at events such as the Steuben Parade is an echo and a reflection of the flower's symbol of life.

There is some speculation that the Blobottel may be the blue flower in the dreams of Yorinde in the folk tale of Yorinde un Goringel (a version of which appears in Mac E. Barrick's "German-American Folklore," page 109). The possessor of the flower is able to destroy enemies and to overcome obstacles.

Blobottel is common in Urglaawe funerary and memorial rites.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Es Schellgraut - Greater Celandine

Flower of Schellgraut

The orange latex or “juice” of Schellgraut (en: Greater Celandine; tax: Cheliodonium majus) has been used in traditional Deitsch remedies for centuries. Among the most common are as a poultice for ringworm, warts, bunions, and corns. The fresh juice may also be applied directly to a wart. Additional uses include lymphatic troubles and piles, though by far the most common use is the treatment of warts.


Lick & Brendle (Plant Names and Plant Lore Among the Pennsylvania Germans, p. 215) cite also that wearing part of the leaf in the shoe will cure jaundice, which to me echoes the Doctrine of Signatures relating the color of the latex to the color one takes on with jaundice. This notion is echoed by Christopher Sauer, who provides a recipe (p. 89) of Greater Celandine, Rue, vinegar, and salt to get rubbed into the soles of the feet to prevent jaundice.

Disclaimer: This information is for educational and discussion purposes only. Nothing in these posts is intended to constitute, or should be considered, medical advice or to serve as a substitute for the advice of a physician or other qualified health care provider. Feverfew may thin the blood, so people on blood thinners should be careful with its use. Also, as the herb is used in inducing menstruation, pregnant women should avoid using this herb. As always, your health is your responsibility. Consult with a doctor before using any herbal remedy or preventative.

Although there are traditional uses internally for jaundice and for gallbladder issues, the plant’s potential toxicity to the liver make it so that it should only be used under the supervision of a medical professional. The plant should be avoided during pregnancy and when breast-feeding.

Orange latex or "juice" of Schellgraut
In animals, it is recorded that Pliny and Dioscorides wrote that swallows used the latex of Greater Celandine to sharpen the eyesight of their young. This is echoed in later German and even Deitsch folklore that field swallows use the latex to cause the eyes of their fledglings to open.

Sauer (p. 89) provides a similar use for Greater Celandine as an eyewash for cataracts in horses.

The latex of the plant may also be applied to the skin to treat poison ivy.

The plant is often used both in sympathetic remedies and in hexes to serve as a stand-in for “wolf’s milk” (pdc: Wolfmillich) which typically serves to drive away enemies or harmful entities or energies or to harm or weaken adversarial entities or energies.

Despite the potential danger of interacting with a mother wolf, whom many may associate with darker energies, the plant is also considered to be warm and dry, and, perhaps due to the color of its latex, it has some association with brightness and daylight. As such, the plant is developing an association with the goddess Helling in Urglaawe practice.

Schellkraut seed pods

This plant, which is native to Europe but naturalized throughout much of the eastern US, is often considered to be simply a nuisance “weed,” but it is actually quite useful and is often a willing ally, medicinally, spiritually, and magically.


Brendle, Thomas R. and Claude W. Unger. Folk Medicine of the Pennsylvania Germans. Proceedings of the Pennsylvania German Society 45. Norristown, PA, 1935.

Weaver, William Woys. "Sauer's Herbal Cures: America's First Book of Botanic Healing." New York: Routledge, 2001.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Hutschefuss - Coltsfoot

Springtime is finally making itself a home here in the Deitscherei, and der Hutschefuss (en: Coltsfoot;  tax. Tussilago farfara) is springing forth.

The traditional uses of this plant include the treatment of asthma (pdc: die Engbruscht), spasmodic coughs, and general chest problems in humans, and it also serves as an equine remedy for coughs and heaves. 
Coltsfoot flower
NOTE: While horses can eat the entire plant, the consumption of the flower is potentially toxic (due to a higher content of pyrrolizidine alkaloids) and I generally recommend the avoidance of its use internally in humans, and the plant is to be avoided during pregnancy. Children under 6 years of age should avoid consuming the herb as well.  I'd not recommend the consumption of the leaves for more than two or three weeks. While many folks consider the whole herb to be safe, one should consult a physician prior to utilizing it.

Disclaimer: This information is for educational and discussion purposes only. Nothing in these posts is intended to constitute, or should be considered, medical advice or to serve as a substitute for the advice of a physician or other qualified health care provider. The aerial parts of Solomon's Seal can  be toxic when consumed internally. Please consult with a licensed medical professional.

The typical methods of application are decoctions and tinctures of the leaves (35A:65W). The herb bolsters the immune system and functions as an expectorant and eases inflammation of mucus membranes. 

Small coltsfoot leaf early in season
If one were to use the flowers (please note the advisory two paragraphs up) for poultices, the harvest time is usually in mid- to late-April. The flowers appear before the leaves, and the leaves are usually collected in late May or even June. 

The herb's leaf is also sometimes (and traditionally) smoked, alone or in combination with other medicinal herbs such as Mullein Leaf (pdc: es Wolleblaat; tax. Verbascum thapsus), to alleviate symptoms of asthma, bronchitis, and other lung ailments. In folklore, the smoking of coltsfoot (again, please see advisory above) is said to induce visions, and magically the smoke of coltsfoot incense is said to be a messenger, particularly of, but not limited to, missives of love. 

Some people also make syrups or lozenges of coltsfoot leaf for spasmodic cough, often combining the herb with other herbs that alleviate cough.

External poultices can include the flower and are effective in easing inflammation of the skin, including insect stings and abrasions.

I also just enjoy seeing the plant growing. I have found two stray turtles (not a common sight just walking in a garden in the middle of suburban Philadelphia) and one skink hiding out in the low canopy of coltsfoot leaves in mid-June. 

Hopefully winter has finally let go of its grip, at least in the daylight hours, and we can all get to our gardening work!

Monday, March 5, 2018

Sacred Space Conference

Sacred Space will be held in Hunt Valley, Maryland, from Thursday, March 15 through Sunday, March 18, 2018. 

This year, there are four Urglaawe-related items on the schedule:
  • Muunraad (Moonwheel): The Pennsylvania Dutch Lunar Calendar and “Zodiac”
  • Oschdresege: Ritual with Introductory Discussion
  • Braucherei in the Urglaawe Context 201
  • Nine Sacred Herbs of Braucherei and Urglaawe

It's not too late to register!

Friday, September 22, 2017

Halliches Erntfescht

(or Erntdankfescht!)

The autumn equinox and surrounding days served as the time of the original Deitsch (and German, for that matter) Thanksgiving. We Urglaawer observe the equinox and celebrate the harvest as a community as close to the equinox as possible. The Schwenkfelders observe the thanksgiving on September 24, other localities hold it on different days, also often based on the equinox.

In Heathen times, communities pitched in to help to finish harvests, to trade different crops, and to tend to kin and neighbor so that everyone had a variety of foods to store for the winter. This is the root of the Harvest Home tradition, which continues in many churches today.

The establishment of a national Thanksgiving holiday was actually met with some resistance in Deitsch communities because we already had a thanksgiving observance that was placed at the time of the completion of the harvest. The end of November seemed to be an odd time to many people. The traditional harvests were well over by then, it was typically very cold, and, prior to the rise of modern transportation and grocery, people would be more likely conserving their food stores, outside of game, to ensure a supply to carry them through if Spring came late.

The Harvest Home church traditions nowadays take place all throughout September, but they are a legacy of the thanksgiving festival. Urglaawe groups hold thanksgiving festivals as close to the equinox as possible. All of these observances focus on spreading the wealth of the harvest around, most typically in the form of canned food donations to food shelters.

Over time, the national holiday in November has meshed well with traditional Pennsylvania Dutch foods and has become part of our lives. However, it is good to keep our cultural traditions alive, too.

Most of us who were born after World War II are so accustomed to supermarkets having everything we could want all throughout the year that it is difficult to fathom the reliance on root cellars, springhouses, and cooperative efforts among neighbors. Jump back a few generations, when most food was grown locally, and it becomes easier to see why there would be a formal expression of gratitude for a successful harvest. We can capture a bit of the experience of our forebears by appreciating events like the end of the harvest.

Besides, it never hurts to have another day where we are a little more deliberate in our gratitude for the food that nourishes us. So, sometime this week, you may want to incorporate an extra expression of gratitude in the religious or philosophical context that resonates with you to the plants and the animals that feed us, to the farmers who produce the food, and to the transportation and outlets that make it available to us.

Let's make Erntfescht/Erntdankfescht a thing again in our communities!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Elderberry Bumper Crop

Perhaps it is the wet weather, but the Elder (pdc: Hollerbeer; tax: Sambucus nigra) bushes are producing an abundance of plump berries this year!

It is now Aernet (also known as Aagscht), the month of the harvest, so it is appropriate to continue to collect the berries and to prepare them for their various uses.

Hail to the Elder Mother! Hail to Holle!

This is one big bunch of elderberries!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Mugwort in Traditional Deitsch Use

Robert L. Schreiwer
Mugwort Harvesting and Smudge Stick Making Workshop

Oak Haven Farm, Cedarbrook, NJ
July 23, 2017

Mugwort is known as Aldi Fraa (Old Lady) in Deitsch (Pennsylvania German or Pennsylvania Dutch), and it is strongly associated with the goddess Holle. 

It is the premiere herb used in Braucherei, Hexerei, and Urglaawe for smudging (pdc: die Rauchreiniching), ritual washing, journeying, and the healing of many ailments and conditions. It is the most common herb used in Braucherei house blessings. It is also commonly used to bundle other herbs together for ritual use.

Fresh Mugwort smudge stick
Susan Hess, our (Michelle Jones' and Robert L. Schreiwer's) herbalism instructor and mentor, captured the importance of Mugwort to the Deitsch in one simple statement: “Think of how important white sage is to most Native Americans; that is how Mugwort is to the Deitsch.”

Disclaimer: This information is for educational and discussion purposes only. Nothing in these posts is intended to constitute, or should be considered, medical advice or to serve as a substitute for the advice of a physician or other qualified health care provider. Feverfew may thin the blood, so people on blood thinners should be careful with its use. Also, as the herb is used in inducing menstruation, pregnant women should avoid using this herb. As always, your health is your responsibility. Consult with a doctor before using any herbal remedy or preventative.

Footbaths of Mugwort are used among Hexerei midwives to increase the likelihood of pregnancy. Its uses in Braucherei include weak teas to increase appetite, ease digestion, to increase the absorption of nutrients from food, and to encourage menstruation. Poultices are used to prevent backache or dull aches in other parts of the body. Please note that Mugwort is contraindicated for pregnancy and its use should be avoided by women who are pregnant or who are seeking to become pregnant.

Deitsch author William Woys Weaver (218) describes Mugwort as “one of the key herbs in Pennsylvania German folk medicine,” stating that it is “an herb devoted to the reprieve of womankind, but, since the early Middle Ages, it was also used in cookery, especially with game.” Goose, which is also associated strongly with Holle, is also traditionally seasoned with Mugwort. 

Christopher Sauer, who was a Deitsch herbalist and who also wrote the first book of botanic healing in the US, described (Weaver 218) various traditional uses for the herb, including the feeding of dry or fresh leaves combined with salt to ease the cough of cattle. 

Sauer continues to cite uses, such as using the juice of Mugwort to aid people who have been injured by bullets. He also describes the use of the herb in footbaths, but he focuses more on post-natal conditions, such as healing from wounds incurred during birth. 

Interestingly, Sauer (Weaver 41) also provides a recipe for breaking injuries caused by witchcraft:

"It has been discovered through everyday use that angelica provides a particularly good remedy for injuries brought about by witchcraft. When a person is a victim of such unnatural afflictions, the following potion has proved especially effective. Take half a handful each of the leaves of angelica, devil's bit, the topmost sprigs of Saint-John's-wort, periwinkle, Venus's goldilocks, and mugwort. These herbs should be chopped fine and put into a large pewter flask with two quarts of fresh springwater and a quart of white wine. Bring this to a boil in a kettle of hot water. Once the infusion has boiled up, let it cool. When cold, open the flask, but not before, lest the properties of the herbs disperse into the air. Strain this through a cloth and administer it warm to the victim, six loths per dose, morning and evening."

Note: A Loth or Lood is an old Deitsch measurement equal to approximately 16 grams.

Devil's Bit (en): pdc: die Schpellekisseblumm, der Deiwelbiss, tax: Scabiosa succisa

St. John's Wort: pdc: es Hexegraut, es Geesgraut, es Hannesgraut, tax: Hypericum perforatum

Periwinkle: pdc: die Sinnebledder, tax: Vinca minor

Venus's Goldilocks: pdc: es Goldlockichmoos, tax: Polytrichum juniperum

Mugwort: pdc: Aldi Fraa, tax: Artemisia vulgaris

For as commonly used as Mugwort is among the Deitsch, it is not listed in the Nine Sacred Herbs of Braucherei and Hexerei. The reason that is usually cited for this omission is that Mugwort is frequently a stand-in for the physically unrelated (but very much so spiritually related) Elder. Because there is a Verbot (taboo, ban) in place regarding the burning of Elder (except for the flowers), Mugwort is the herb that is burned in its stead. 

The spirit of Mugwort is what one might expect from an old Braucherin or Hex: approachable and eager to help those in need but not intolerant of nonsense, disorder, or deceit. Mugwort is an ally to those who are deserving of its time and effort. The spirit of the plant seeks to establish order within chaos, which is said to be one reason it grows so avidly in disturbed soil.

Mugwort is appropriate at any and all Urglaawe rites and rituals, Braucherei or Hexerei workings, etc. 

This is one of our most powerful herbs. Enjoy making your smudge sticks and learning how to use them. Then prepare for a possible wild ride in your sleep!


Weaver, William Woys. "Sauer's Herbal Cures: America's First Book of Botanic Healing." New York: Routledge, 2001.