Midsummer, Summer Solstice, Litha — this celebration has many names and so much folklore attached to it as it is celebrated by numerous cultures. At this time of the year the Earth is usually at its most lush and green and it is believed that many herbs are at their most potent for harvesting at this time as well. One of the most prevalent pieces of lore attached to the solstice and herbal magick is legends around herbal magick and the “Nine Sacred Herbs”. (Or in some cases Nine Sacred Woods.) It is claimed to originate in different places and not all sources agree on the same nine herbs, but it is still a fascinating insight into how our ancestors must have observed this solar holiday:
Sacred Number 9
First of all, the number 9 is very significant! It is found in many places, but especially in these sacred herbal traditions. Why nine? Truthfully, its power is due to its mathematical property of being the product of three multiplied by three. Three is a number that is magickally and historically associated with perfection (like the triple Goddess or the trinity from Christianity — of course a number so closely associated with divinity would be considered “perfect”!). Three is also associated with the manifestation and fruition of goals and intentions. So to multiple three by itself was to create exponential perfection! Nine is, in this association, considered one of the most powerful numbers for manifestation magick; it confers the power and perfection of the gods!
used for this purpose — or sometimes just one. (I, personally, think that rosemary is perfect for this purpose by itself!) Some sources suggest that the Nine Sacred Herbs are a part of the Greater Key of Solomon — an ancient grimoire rumored to have been owned by King Solomon who ruled Isreal in the 9th century BCE. In this text, these nine sacred herbs at part of a recipe to create an “aspergillum”; a bundle of herbs which is used to “asperge” (a word used traditionally in Wicca and Witchcraft) or sprinkle blessed water used for purification purposes. It bears mentioning that other texts sometimes refer to different herbs that should be used for this purpose — or sometimes just one. (I, personally, think that rosemary is perfect for this purpose by itself!) However, if you’re looking for a way to incorporate this tradition into your Midsummer celebrations, these are herbs to use based on the Greater Key of Solomon: Wood Betony, Chamomile, Lavender, Lemon Balm, Mullein, Rue, St. John’s Wort, Thyme, and Vervain.
The Nine Sacred Herbs from this tale are mugwort, plantain, shepard’s purse (“lamb’s cress” is the name used in the original myth/remedy), chamomile, nettle, crab apple, chervil, and fennel. The recipe was intended to make a salve using some other spare ingredients (soap, ash, apple juice, an egg…). You can click HERE to find the exact instructions!
Another “nine” piece of folklore are the Nine Sacred Woods of Celtic/Druid folklore. The Nine Sacred Woods consist of the first nine named within the Celtic Tree Calendar; Alder, Ash, Birch, Hawthorn, Hazel, Holly, Oak, Rowan and Willow. It was typical to burn these woods (although I suggest caution attempting to do so yourself as Holly and Hazel are toxic!) in a needfire. A needfire is a campfire that was typically used for practical purposes — although in those times the line between a sacred fire and a practical fire were almost entirely blurred! Fire was just sacred in and of itself. You can substitute Apple, Grape, Fir or Sandalwood in place of the toxic varieties. Like much of the Nine Sacred Herb lore; it’s theme is purification and these woods burned in the fire were consider to be cleansing for those who walked or bathed in the smoke.
This tells us that the summer solstice is the perfect time for creating herbal remedies and preparations. (If you want to make the remedy I linked above, that’s certainly an option although I don’t think Odin would begrudge you choosing something modern with more scientifically proven healing power!) Or, if you’re not ready for making herbal remedies, maybe just learning about them! And, of course, ritual fires are huge for midsummer celebrations. The most common way to incorporate the herbs is to indulge the Druidic tradition of burning them. Of course, you have so many choices, so for your benefit here is a quick and dirty breakdown of the “Nine” Sacred Herbs for your consideration in ritual (herbs with asterisk(*) are also those especially strongly associated with the summer solstice/the Sun, double asterisk):
How do you like to use herbs in your Summer Solstice Celebrations? Are you a forager? An herbalist? Tell me in the comments below how you are planning to tap into the power of herbal magick for Midsummer!