Friday, June 09, 2006

St Columba's Armpit Package: St John's Wort

Today is St. Columba’s Day. And the magical herb, St John's Wort, which flowers around summer solstice, was said to be his favorite herb.

Alexander Carmichael, who collected ancient Gaelic charms and incantations in Scotland in the 19th century, records several other names for St. John's Wort: the armpit-package of Columba, hail of Columba, charm of Columba, jewel of Columba, glory of Columba, noble plant of Mary and noble yellow plant. It was secretly secured in the bodices of women and the vests of men, under the left armpit, which is also the way it was worn by St. Columba. (I wonder about this: was it an early form of deodorant? Or simply a great way to hide a magical amulet?)

It was considered effective only when accidentally found and picked while saying this charm:

Arm-pit package of Columba the kindly
Unsought by me, unlooked for
I shall not be carried away in my sleep
Neither shall I be pierced with iron
Better the reward of its virtues
Than a herd of white cattle.

It was especially prized when found in the fold of the flocks, auguring peace and prosperity in the herds throughout the year.

I didn’t find it in the folds or the flocks but this afternoon I spotted it growing along the cracks of a narrow bridge that swings out over the I-5freeway, connecting downtown Seattle with Capitol Hill where I live. It seems to love these toxic environments. I’ve also found it growing out of a crack in the asphalt between a narrow road and a concrete wall and along the side of freeway onramps.

The magical herb, St John’s Wort, is hypericum perforatum, and quite different from the ornamental ground cover called St. John’s Wort (which is also known as Rose of Sharon). The wild weed is a small upright plant, about six to eight inches tall with tiny flowers that “bleed” (release a red juice that stains your fingers) when you press them. The flowers of the ornamental shrub are much bigger and wider and do not bleed.

I just spent about 20 minutes looking for a good picture of the "wrong" St. John's Wort online and found that many sites, including many that sell herbs for medical and magical purposes, show pictures of the "wrong" St. John's wort. No wonder it isn't proving effective in medical trials. I didn't choose a picture from any of these sites because I didn't want to embarrass them.
The illustration to the left is from a gardening site:

The illustration of the real, magical, medicinal St. John's wort (above) is from the Government of British Columbia's Department of Agriculture and Lands at

1 comment:

kerrdelune said...

Waverly, I just learned of your blog from Joanna and am so pleased to discover that you are now blogging. I shall be stopping by often. Cheers, Cate