Halloween comes from an ancient Celtic (Gaelic or Irish) festival, Samhain. The harvest was over, the cold dreary days of winter were near and death was hovering with cold breath and frigid hand. The fields were dead, the year would soon die and the reaper would take his toll of human life. In this season of death, especially on one night, the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead blurred and the sprits roamed free once again in the world.; free to destroy crops, create trouble and bring evil to their erstwhile neighbors.
The Celts built huge sacred bonfires where they burned the bones and carcasses of slaughtered animals, grains and other sacrifices to the gods begging protection and perhaps a glimpse of the future. Asking for reassurance that they would survive hard winter with their families intact.
The celebrants dressed in furs and animal heads disguising themselves from their neighbors and the roaming spirits. Perhaps they were hiding so the evil could not touch them or perhaps they were placating the spirits by emulating them. When the celebration was done they took the flames of the sacred fire to relight their hearths for what protection it would bring in the coming year.
By 45 Ad the Romans had conquered the lands occupied by the Celts in Britain, Ireland and Scotland. They brought their own customs to the celebration of Samhain. They too had a day honoring the passing of the dead in late October, Feralia. They also added another holiday honoring the goddess Pomona who protected fruits and trees. That is probably where the custom of bobbing for apples came from.
Christianity in the time honored tradition of replacing pagan holidays with church sanctioned ones added November 1st as All Saints Day to the calendar. It was called All-hallows or All-hallowmas from a middle English term meaning all saints day. The night before was All Hallowes Eve or Halloween. Later All Souls Day November 2, was added to the church calendar and all three holidays continued to be celebrated with bonfires and the donning of costumes.
Our ancestors did not just don costumes once a year to ward off demons, spirits and bad luck. It was an on going process and herbs and plants played a big part in making the world safe from spirits that crossed over from another realm either on Halloween or at other times. So this being the time of year when there is little going on in our gardens perhaps it would be a good time to plan a Halloween garden for the coming growing season.
It was a custom in Europe to carve lanterns out of turnips, Swedes or mangel- wurzels. Swedes are rutabagas to us (Brassica napobrassica) and are a hybrid of a turnip and a cabbage. Mangel-wurzels (Beta vulgaris) is the rather charming name for a type of large beet that today is primarily grown for cattle and pig food. It is, however, much prized as a heritage crop and both the leaves and roots are said to be delicious. While none of these are particularly associated with Halloween they are the precursor of the Jack-o-lanterns so let’s have at least one of them in our Halloween garden.
When the colonists brought the carving of vegetables for lanterns to the US they quickly discovered that pumpkins made better lanterns than turnips. Since pumpkins ripen in the fall they became associated with Halloween and continued the tradition of using fright masks to mimic the ghouls and goblins. A pumpkin most definitely must go in our Halloween garden.
Periwinkle (Vinca minor) makes a very potent herb for a Halloween Garden. Known as Sorcerer’s Violet it is renowned for driving off evil spirits. It is also known for its narcotic properties so, if it doesn’t actually get rid of the evils spirits, it will allow you to sleep right through them. St. Johns Wort (Hypericum perforatum) provides a lovely yellow accent to the garden and can be used to cast out devils. Lavender (Levandula sp.) will ward off any evil that the other two might miss.
The Greeks believed that rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) placed over the door would ward off misfortune. It is also said to be a wonderful herb for chasing away the specters that haunt our dreams. So rosemary will have an honored place in our garden to ensure sweet dreams.
We must devote a section of our Halloween garden to herbs that drive off witches. Angelica (Angelica archangelica) makes a nice tall background plant. Not only does it reseed itself, but no witch will come where an angelica plant resides. If the spell has already been cast and the curse bestowed, bathing in an infusion of angelica will surely remove it. If witches have taken to hanging around your house dousing them with basil (Ocimum basilicum) tea will send them on their way. For some flowering plants that are shunned by witches try Snapdragon (Antirrhinum magus), scarlet pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis) and toadflax (Linaria vulgaris)
If you are partial to burning or smudging with herbs a section of the Halloween garden can be planted with herbs that serve this purpose. Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) and fumitory (Fumaria officinalis) work well on evil spirits. Something to wear for protection? A necklace of peony (Paeonia sp.) seeds will protect against pesky witches, as will a wreath of Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) And always carry sage (Salvia officinalis), one of the traditional herbs of Samhain, which can also be burnt to keep evil at bay.
Problems with ghosts? Try bay and larkspur. Bring the bay in for the winter, as it will not survive out doors in our cold climate. The plant will keep your home specter free all winter. Plant rue (Ruta graveolens), for werewolves and of course garlic (Allium sativum) to keep vampires at bay.
There you have it garden that will keep all of the evil influences out of your life and you can even eat the mangel-wurzels.