One of the things I truly love about foraging for my own craft materials is the stunningly unique natural forming life you can find almost everywhere. Mushrooms are of a particular interest and a species I find myself very much drawn to spiritually. Mushrooms have a long, and often negatively preconceived history with Muggles and their folklore, and are often said to have many magical and medicinal properties. They grow in all shapes, sizes, and colours, and you can often find that some are much more than the eye beholds.
Identifying Mushrooms and Health and Safety Practices
It is extremely important to remember that unless you are absolutely 100% positive about the type of mushroom you have found, you should NEVER ingest it. There are thousands of deadly mushrooms full of toxins that humans, both magical and Muggle, cannot stomach, and they do often look similar to edible ones. It is always worth taking your mushrooms to an expert in the field before consuming any, unless you fancy a trip to St. Mungo's.
Whilst on the topic of ingesting mushrooms, it’s also worth noting that there are numerous medicinal uses for mushrooms and you can incorporate these in your life in many ways, such as symbolically, instead of eating them.
Red and White Fly Agaric Mushroom
This mushroom is possibly one of, if not the most, popular and well-known of the mushrooms! Within illustration, it often appears surrounded by a gathering of magical creatures including the likes of gnomes or fairies! In Europe, this mushroom is associated with the season of Yule - a festival historically observed by the Germanic peoples celebrated at winter - and it contains two toxins that are supposed to stimulate fear! This means that these mushrooms are NOT EDIBLE and should not be picked, only observed. These types of mushrooms are also often referred to as toadstools. Although these mushrooms don't have any known medicinal value, I felt this mushroom was worth mentioning as a beginner mushroom as they are very easily identifiable and hold strong links to magic!
FUN FACT: There is a theory that Father Christmas’ signature red and white colours originated from this magical mushroom.
The sudden appearance of circular mushroom rings – often rapidly appearing overnight in some cases – is strongly associated with fairies. All around the world, this phenomenon is linked strongly to both witches and fairies. In France and Austria, it’s said these mysterious rings are referred to as “Sorcerers Rings” or “Witches Rings,” whilst here in England, the Muggle folklore surrounding them tells they appear when fairies have danced upon the ground.
In many traditions, a common theme running throughout is that if you are to cross through a fairy ring or dig one up, you will be struck with all sorts of bad luck; being a Witch, I do not believe this folklore legend. How can something given to us so magically be in any way a negative thing? On a positive note, some traditions claim that they were good luck and some legends even claim there lay hidden treasure buried underneath!
Fungi sprouting up in mystical circles within many traditions gives off incredible spiritual energies of protection, health, growth, and fertility! The rapidness of growth, especially of circles, reminds me so dearly of new life and this is how I interpret their special energies! How you interpret the energy of a plant is, of course, always personal in my opinion.
Medicine in The Mushroom?
The medicinal and antibiotic remedies from fungi have been used widely for centuries. Across Europe, mushrooms have been used to treat infected wounds, boils, throat infections, and even used as part of a skincare routine!
Here are some fungi that are often used in the treatment of medicines: Phallus impudicus, Ganoderma lucidum, Daldinia concentricia; all of which have also been used to treat things such as nosebleeds, arthritis, and even several cancers for over 4000 years!
In summary, mushrooms truly are a spectacular species! They are forever interesting and always keep foragers on their toes. Both deadly and helpful, mushrooms are a species of endless potential, deserving of delicate handling and responsible hunting. I learn a lot about mushrooms every day and am in the process of experimenting with mushroom essential oils. I hope I enticed some of you into becoming mushroom nerds just as I am.
Have you ever spotted any wild mushrooms out on your travels? Next time you're out wandering the Hogwarts grounds, keep an eye out for any smoothly topped brightly coloured mushrooms. Perhaps there will be a fairy or two around...
What is Herbalism?
Herbalism, otherwise known as herbal medicine, is the practice of plant-based medicine using a variety of plants in different medical ways. Within this practise you can use both dried and fresh herbs depending on the plant. There are a huge array of plants that can be used in this practise, for each plant (and sometimes even each part of one specific plant) holds different medicinal qualities. The unique qualities within them can support and heal the body and mind in the same ways modern medicine can.
There are numerous ways of practicing herbalism, some of which I will be going into more specifically in later issues, so don't forget to pick up the latest copy of SerpenTimes! The most common practices with herbalism are water-based preparations and can be compared to our wonderful magical potion-making.
The following are some common ways of using herbs:
The History of Herbalism
It is widely thought that herbalism is the oldest form of medicine used. Plants have been used for the basis of many medical treatments throughout much of human history. Until the introduction of pharmaceutically-based medicine at the beginning of the 19th century, all cultures relied upon plants. This traditional medicine is still widely practiced and easily followed in today's society.
It is important to note that herbalism is an umbrella term and there are two main approaches, Western herbalism and traditional – or Chinese – herbalism. In quick summary, Western herbalism treats single or separate symptoms using one or a small group of herbs. Examples of this include St. John's Wort for mild depression and ginkgo for memory. Chinese herbalism, however, traditionally diagnoses how to treat you by looking at your health entirely. It does not focus on one symptom, but focuses on symptoms as well as duration, possible cause, emotional temperament, and overall body constitution.
In fact, the earliest recordings of natural healing methods were in China nearly 5000 years ago! Due to China remaining closed to the Western world for many centuries, texts recorded on tablets and papyri from early civilizations in Sumeria and Egypt are the main sources for Western herbalism and medicine. In Europe itself, Ancient Greece was home to many great herbalists including Hippocrates, Galen, Dioscorides, and Theophrastus.
Moving on to the Renaissance, a time when production of pomanders, the use of posies, strewing herbs, and herbal fumigation started to boom even more so than the earliest times. Diet was also considered at this time to be integral to healing, so herbs were added to food for their medicinal properties as much as for their nutritional value and flavour.
In the early 19th century, herbalism was not as prominent as the medical establishment moved away from herbal remedies and more so to laboratory-made chemical drugs. Yes, a great step forward for civilization it was! General health improved and cures for diseases still continue to be found, but a side-effect of this mass production was the lack of responsibility for minor health issues. Natural easy remedies were taken out of the hands of ordinary people and soon forgotten.
However, it isn't all bad news of course! In the last century, much ancient plant lore has been revived for self-healing use both internally and externally. A Welsh-born Edward Bach – the pioneer of modern flower remedies - had a role to play in that. In 1919, Bach joined the staff at London Homeopathic Hospital and believed that for healing to succeed, the emotions of a person had to be addressed in depth. By 1928, he was experimenting with flowers in particular, finding many useful remedies including that the herbs clematis and mimulus worked well to calm mental states. And, of course, now, here we are using Bach's, and those before him, studies of herbs and their positive effects on the mind, body, and spirit.
Health and Safety
With any form of medical treatment there are side-effects and impacts to the body and mind. Herbal medicine is the same and does have the potential to harm the body if you were to use it incorrectly. We should therefore look to herbal medicine in the same respects we do to modern medicine.
Knowing this, it is important to inform your general practitioner (GP) – or pharmacist at the very least – about any herbal medicines you are taking or going to take, if you are a person who has serious health conditions, are taking other forms of medication, are due to have surgery, are pregnant or breastfeeding, or are of a sensitive age group. It is always worth seeking a medical professional's advice.