Sacred Plants of the Samhain Sabbat

Samhain Spaces
Many plants are associated with Samhain. Foam/Flickr/Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

 In most modern Pagan traditions, plants and their folklore are an integral part of belief and practice. In particular, many of the Sabbats are associated with the magical properties of different plants. Samhain falls on October 31 in the northern hemisphere, and six months earlier if you live below the equator. Let’s take a look at Samhain, the witches' new year, and seven plants that often correspond with the season.

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Rosemary is associated with remembrance. Judith Haeusler/Cultura/Getty Images

Rosemary is associated with remembrance, and during the Samhain season, many of us are taking the time to honor the memories of our ancestors and other lost loved ones. Use rosemary on an ancestor altar, or blend it into incense for use in your Samhain rituals.

Roman priests used rosemary as incense in religious ceremonies, and many cultures considered it a herb to use as protection from evil spirits and witches. In England, it was burned in the homes of those who had died from illness, and placed on coffins before the grave was filled with dirt.

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Fall Flowers

Chrysanthemums are associated with protection, particularly of the metaphysical kind. Image by Jan Tyler/E+/Getty Images

Autumn flowers like marigolds and chrysanthemums are always appropriate at Samhain. Often associated with protection, particularly of the metaphysical sort, chrysanthemums come in handy when working with the spirit world. In some traditions, they’re a centerpiece for funeral decorations or grave memorials, most likely because they’re blooming around Samhain. You can dry the heads and use them in loose-leaf incense blends for fall rituals.

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Apples, Branches, and Blossoms

Apple Orchard
Take your kids for a day and pick apples straight from the trees. Image by Patti Wigington

Apples appear in a number of belief systems as being sacred to the gods. During Samhain, the apple-picking season is winding down in many areas, and in many early agricultural societies, a good apple harvest meant that the gods were showing the community their favor. You can use apples in a number of magical ways, including a few different methods of divination.

If you’ve harvested the blossoms from an apple tree and dried them out for storage, be sure to incorporate those into your workings as well. The apple was considered a symbol of immortality. Interestingly, it's also seen as a food for the dead, which is why Samhain is sometimes referred to as the Feast of Apples. In Celtic myth, an apple branch bearing grown fruit, flowers, and unopened buds was a magical key to the land of the Underworld.

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The pomegranate is the symbol of Demeter and her lost daughter, Persephone. Image by Michaela Begsteiger/Image Broker/Getty Images

Pomegranates feature prominently in the story of Demeter and Persephone. Associated with the realm of the underworld, pomegranates can be used in rituals involving communication with the dead.

Interestingly, pomegranates are also associated with fertility magic in the fall. The Practical Herbalist says, “[The] fruit is filled with seeds, not just five or six or even ten or twenty, but 840 seeds. Pomegranate’s fertility magic is about diversity. Pomegranate teaches us to cast our seeds far and wide, to send out many branches, to find strength in a diverse or wide array of creative pursuits. Uncompromising in its environmental requirements, pomegranate’s fertility magic is about protecting the diversity we sow. Pomegranate won’t fruit if the conditions aren’t right, although very few would call pomegranate tender or delicate. Pomegranate reminds us to be aware of our environment, to choose where and when we sow our seeds wisely, and to be uncompromising in the conditions we require for our own growth.”

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Squashes, Pumpkins, and Gourds

Image by Alan Dow Photography/Moment Open/Getty Images

Squashes – and this includes pumpkins and gourds – are typically associated with the abundance of the late harvest season. In many areas, by the time Samhain rolls around, the squash crops and pumpkin patches are beginning to dwindle. However, squashes are fairly hardy and store well in the right conditions, they can last several months, providing sustenance for your family even when the fields are bare and covered in snow.

Some traditions associate the squash family with psychic awareness and development. Others connect it to protection – you can carve sigils and symbols of protection into a squash and place it in a window or doorway to protect from metaphysical attack.

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Mugwort is associated with divination. Ron Evans/Photolibrary/Getty Images

Mugwort is found in some magical traditions that associate it with divination and dreaming. If someone has overactive dreams, they can be balanced out with a ritual bath made from mugwort and indulged in prior to bedtime. Bald’s Leechbook, an herbal from around the ninth century, refers to the use of mugwort to cast out demonic possession. The author also recommends heating a large stone in the fireplace, then sprinkling it with mugwort, and adding water to create a steam for the patient to inhale.

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Rowan Trees

Rowan Berries
Rowan can keep evil spirits out of the house. Gergo Hajba/EyeEm/Getty Images

Rowan branches and berries were used – and actually, still are – in Scotland and parts of northern England as a way to keep evil spirits out of the house. The berries are associated with good health, but if you plant a bush near a grave, it will keep the dead from rising. Much like Beltane, six months away, Samhain is a night when the spirit world sees an awful lot of activity. You can hang rowan branches around your home, or a sprig of berries over doors and windows, to keep the spirits at bay.