Magical Plants & Herbs in Romanian Folklore: Vincetoxicum hirundinaria or Iarba Fiarelor

iarbafiarelorAccording to Butură, Iarba Fiarelor was used as medicine against wounds and rheumatic pain. However, the most interesting documented use of this particular plant is the mythical one : apparently Vincetoxicum hirundinaria was thought to possess the power to open all locks, doors and coughs, and break any object built out of iron ( in Romanian, fier = iron). It was said it glowed red during the nigh, but came back to its normal color after sunrise.

Evseev mentions that the plant was known to be toxic; it was said that if cows accidently ingered it, they died. Besides glowing red at night, Iarba Fiarelor had other supernatural properties that could help one distinguish it from useless weeds. For example, it could float against the current. It was said that the origin of the plant was in the first drop of blood that fell from the navel of Christ.

Voronca also mentions Vincetoxicum hirundinaria in her chapter on thieves, among other things. It was thought that, in order to gain protection, thieves used to kidnap pregnant women, rip their babies out to drink up the blood and eat the flesh of the unborn. Moreover, in order to remain stealthy when robbing the victim, they would bring the hand or finger of a dead man with them and ritualistically circle the victim’s house while carrying the fetish.

These connections between thievery and the dead are to be analysed later, in another post.

 

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Magical Plants & Herbs in Romanian Folklore: Hyoscyamus niger or Măselariță

 

Hyoscyamus niger is known as Măselariță in Romanian folklore or henbane in common English. It grows along fences and roads. Its leafs and seeds contain alkaloids, such as atropine, hyoscyamine, and scopolamine.

According to Borza’s dictionary,  henbane was used against toothaches ( hence the name, măsea = tooth). It was also used to cure snake bites and insomnias in children (!).

According to Oișteanu, we know from Dioscorides that henbane was used by Dacians. They called it dielleina or  dielina. Dioscorides writes that the Măselariță causes insanity and deep sleep. In Roman territory, it was known as altercum/alterculum or insana. Romans used the plant at feasts in the name of the dead. One of the Romanian names, nebunariță (nebunie = insanity) proves the continuity of its use. It was also used by witches for flying ointments. According to legend, plants such as henbane,  belladonna or datura were created by the Devil himself.

 

Magical Plants & Herbs in Romanian Folklore: Datura stramonium or Ciumăfaie

Datura stramonium, widely known as Ciumăfaie in Romanian folklore , also goes by the names of  Bolîndăriță ( from boală – disease), Ciuma fetei ( the girl’s plague, lit.),  cornută ( from corn – horn, the horned one, lit.), Iarba dracului ( the devil’s weed) or  Nebunariță ( from nebun – insane). As found in Borza’s dictionary of ethnobotanics, most of the plant’s given names relate to madness or even rabies, due to Datura’s well known psychotropic properties.

In Valer Butură’s Encyclopedia , it is described as having white flowers and black seeds. It grows on roadsides, or along fences. Its leafs were used for healing pustule, as  they would draw the puss. It was also used during plague epidemics, hence the common name  Ciumăfaie ( ciumă – plague).

In Bucovina, women use Ciumăfaie for love spells, bindings and curses. According  to Marian, witches place Datura seeds in the victim’s drink in order to break their will.  Marian has a different view on the connection between Datura and the plague: the disease was personified as an ugly, old lady and so was Ciumăfaie, plant which they linked to the disease, due to the fact that the effects of  the plant when ingested were as horrid and hard  to battle as the symptoms of the plague.

Oișteanu mentions that in some Romanian cosmogonies, plants such as Datura or Atropa belladonna were created by the Devil himself. Also, the use of hallucinogenic ointments containing  Ciumăfaie has been attested in some areas of Romania. The female living strigoi would use ointments containing extracts of hallucinogenic plants in order to magically fly to their places of gathering. Datura was akso used to feed the dead strigoi in order to keep them from harming the living.

*illustration stolen from http://plantgenera.org/

 

 

 

Magical Plants & Herbs in Romanian Folklore: Atropa Belladonna or Mătrăguna

belladonnaOn my other blog , I used to have  a thing called “Creature Feature”, where I would expand on various beasts from Romanian folklore. I’ve now decided to pay a little bit of attention to the plant kingdom and the Romanian legends, rites and rituals that revolve around it.

We’re going to start with one of our well known ethnobotanical friends, Atropa belladonna. Known as Banewort or Deadly Nightshade in English, Atropa belladonna is most commonly called Mătrăguna in Romanian folklore. According to Borza’s Dictionary, it also goes by the names of  Cinstita (the honest), Cireașa lupului (wolf’s cherry), Doamna codrului (lady of the forest), Iarba lupului (wolf’s grass),  or Împărăteasa buruienilor (the empress of weeds).

It belongs to the Solanaceae family, has brown-violet flowers and shiny black fruits. Its leaves and roots  are rich in alkaloids such as hyoscyamine, atropine or scopolamine.

In his book on Romanian ethnobotanics, Marian talks about the important role that Atropa belladonna plays in love spells cast by women.

A young woman that desires to attract the company of young men has to dress up in her newest, cleanest set of clothes on a Monday, Wednesday or Friday. For this ritual, she needs around 500ml of holercă (bad quality moonshine), a glass and a loaf of bread. Just before sunrise she will go to the place where the plant is growing and  go round the belladonna  while saying:

Mătrăgună, doamnă bună!

Mărită-mă-n astă lună

De nu-n asta, -n ceealaltă

-i destul de când sunt fată.

 

Mătrăgună, kind lady

Get me married this month,

If not this one, then the next,

I have been enough a maid.

 

Then, the young woman is supposed to lay the table cloth at the feet of the plant and serve it the glass of moonshine saying:

Mătrăgună, poamă bună!

Eu te cinstesc cu cinste

Cu dragoste și cu pâine,

Să vie norocul la mine…

Norocul când s-a-mpărțit,

Eram cu plugul la câmp

Puțintel mi s-a venit,

Mătrăgun-am sorocit!

 

Mătrăgună, good seed

In honesty I serve you

With love and bread

May you send me luck…

When luck got spread

I was harvesting the field

So I didn’t get a lot

I was meant for Mătrăgună.

 

After reciting the spell above, she has to drink the moonshine, refill the glass and sprinkle the refill on the plant. She will do the same with some bread. The maiden will then take the bread left in the tablecloth, put the bottle on her head, grab the filled glass in her hand and return to her home, chanting the spell.

She will repeat the ritual on the following Wednesday and Friday, choosing different roads back home and being careful not to be seen.

On Friday, she will harvest the plant and take it home wrapped in the table cloth. When home, she will put it under the pillow and bathe in an infusion of Belladonna in the evening.  She will take the plant back on Saturday morning. She has to take another way back home and never look back.

In his book on narcotics in Romanian culture and folklore, Oișteanu quotes Marian regarding  Belladonna. In Bucovina (north-east of Romania), it is believed that there are two types of Mătrăgună: the black one, which grows in shady groves, and the white one, which grows where the sun scorches the earth.

Tavern or inn owners put the plant on top of the moonshine barrels, to attract patrons.

Mătrăguna can also be used to harm enemies. If this is the case, one must harvest the plant while cussing and cursing, moving one’s limbs chaotically and invoking the plant’s magical powers. After the harvest, parts of the plant are placed in the victim’s food or drink. It is said that the one cursed like this goes insane and never gets his sanity back.

 

*image stolen from http://www.henriettes-herb.com

** the verses in bold are an approximate translation and interpretation of the Romanian incantation, due to the archaic use of language and to the fact that I am not a professional translator this is the best I could do