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The Missing Anglo Saxon Herb by
The Missing Anglo Saxon Herb
	"A worm came creeping,
	he tore asunder a man.
	Then took Woden
	nine magic twigs
	and he smote the serpent
	that he flew into nine bits..."

So begins the story of how Woden obtained the nine sacred herbs of old. The anglo-saxons believed that sickness was a result of poisons carried on the wind. Not a bad definition of air-borne bacteria considering the dark ages that enshrouded the western hemisphere at the time! The cure for these was a mixture of herbal preparations and prayer . The Lacnunga, a 11th century manuscript, tells us about each of these herbs and their uses in a a poem referred to as the Nine Herbs Charm, or Nine Wort Charm. For those of you who may not be familiar with it, the whole poem is shown below, along with descriptions of the herbs mentioned:

	Remember, Mugwort, what you made known,
	What you arranged at the Great proclamation.
	You were called Una, the oldest of herbs,
	you have power against three and against thirty,
	you have power against poison and against infection,
	you have power against the loathsome foe roving through the land.
Mugwort - Artemisia vulgaris
(felon herb, St. John's herb, moxa)

Description: 6 foot tall herb with reddish stems and long green leaves with white undersides. Also blooms reddish brown flowers in late summer.

Uses: All parts of the plant may be used fresh or dried in the shade. One of the nine Saxon magic herbs. It is used in tea form to treat gastritis, digestive problems, and menstruation disorders. CAUTION: May be harmful if taken is excessive doses.

	And you, Plantain, mother of herbs,
	Open from the east, mighty inside.
	over you chariots creaked, over you queens rode,
	over you brides cried out, over you bulls snorted.
	You withstood all of them, you dashed against them.
	May you likewise withstand poison and infection
	and the loathsome foe roving through the land.
Greater Plantain - Plantago major (Plantaginaceae)
(broadleaf plantain, rat's tail plantain, waybread, white man's footprint)

Description: Hard rooted perennial with a rosette of long stalked elliptical leaves that are deeply veined and pointed at the tip. Tall cylindrical spikes of small yellow-green flowers appear in the summer followed by a spike of seeds in a gelatinous pod.

Uses: Use leaves fresh or dried quickly in sun or shade and roots dug in winter and boiled. One of the 9 sacred Saxon herbs. Leaves are cooling and pain-relieving when crushed and can be applied in poultice or creams to treat wounds and abrasions. Can also be made into infusion to use as a gargle or eyebath.

	'Stune' is the name of this herb, it grew on a stone,
	it stands up against poison, it dashes against poison,
	it drives out the hostile one, it casts out poison.
Watercress - Nastrurtium officinale (Cruciferae)

Description: Lush aquatic evergreen perennial. Leaves are oval shaped, dark green and silky with older leaves turning a golden color. Small white flowers appear in summer followed by short fat pods containing 2 rows of seeds.

Uses: Use older leafy stems fresh or dried and use seeds when ripe. Leaves are rich in vitamins C and A as well as minerals. Tea used as a cough remedy. Crushed leaves are applied in a poultice for rheumatism and gout. CAUTION: Do not consume large quantities, and collect from un-polluted water (plants in dirty water may be host to the dangerous liver fluke).

	This is the herb that fought against the snake,
	it has power against poison, it has power against infection,
	it has power against the loathsome foe roving through the land.
	Put to flight now, Venom-loather, the greater poisons,
	though you are the lesser,
	you the mightier, conquer the lesser poisons, until he is cured of both.
This is the mystery herb. Other herbs are usually substituted for 'AtterLoathe', but no herb has been identified (until now) that matches the name and properties, and the historical and geographical locales of this herb. Read on!

	Remember, Chamomile, what you made known,
	what you accomplished at Alorford,
	that never a man should lose his life from infection
	after Chamomile was prepared for his food.
Wild Chamomile - Matricaria recutita (Compositae)
(scented mayweed, German chamomile)

Description: Aromatic annual with stems up to 18 in. Small sweet fragrant white daisies appear in summer.

Uses: Use flowers fresh of dried in the shade. Tea is refreshing and mildly sedative. Flowers reduce inflammations and to soothe teething pains. CAUTION: May cause severe reaction to people with ragweed allergies.

	This is the herb that is called 'Wergulu'.
	A seal sent it across the sea-right,
	a vexation to poison, a help to others.
	it stands against pain, it dashes against poison,
	it has power against three and against thirty,
	against the hand of a fiend and against mighty devices,
	against the spell of mean creatures.
Stinging Nettle - Urtica dioica (Urticaceae)

Description: Perennial herb with stems which grow up to 6 ft. Leaves are oblong and covered in stinging hairs, bears tiny yellow flowers some hanging like catkins (female) and others in spikes (male) in summer and fall.

Uses: Use leaves gathered before flowering fresh or dried in the sun. Mature leaves are laxative and expectorant in infusion. CAUTION: Handle with care, may cause "nettle rash" if handled too frequently with bare hands.

	There the Apple accomplished it against poison
	that she [the loathsome serpent] would never dwell in the house.
Crab Apple - pyrus malus
(crab apple, cultivated apple)

The composition of the apple fruit varies with variety, climatic conditions during the growing season, and the stage of maturity. The apple is not strictly speaking a herb, rather it is a fruit.

Medicinal uses: Antispetic and a tonic. A rich source of various vitamins, trace elements, amino acids and flavanoids. Malic acid is the principal acid of the fruit, hence its latin name. It is useful in the management of immunomediated diseases, and contains an antifungal constituent. It reduces skin inflammation and helps in removing dead skin fragments.

	Chervil and Fennell, two very mighty one.
	They were created by the wise Lord,
	holy in heaven as He hung;
	He set and sent them to the seven worlds,
	to the wretched and the fortunate, as a help to all.
Chervil - Anthriscus cerefolium (Umbelliferae)
(salad chervil, garden beaked parsley)

Description: Grows up to two feet tall with a tapering root stalk. Well branched with sweet scented delicate foliage that resembles parsley. Umbels of small white flowers in spring and summer, followed by seed pods. CAUTION: Do Not harvest wild for it can be easily confused for poisonous hemlock, fools parsley and water dropwort.

Uses: Use bruised leaves applied fresh or as poultices to wounds. Infusion aids in digestion and helps stimulate perspiration.

Fennel - Foeniculum vulgare (Umbelliferae) (spigel)

Description: Gray green perennial herb, with slim stems that grow up to 6 ft bearing threadlike leaves and small yellow flowers in midsummer. Small oval green seedpods appear following the flowering period.

Use: Use growing tips fresh or dried and roots dug up in autumn. One of the nine Anglo Saxon sacred herbs. Fennel tea helps relieve indigestion and colic. CAUTION: avoid large doses.

	These nine have power against nine poisons.
	A worm came crawling, it killed nothing.
	For Woden took nine glory-twigs,
	he smote the the adder that it flew apart into nine parts.
	Now there nine herbs have power against nine evil spirits,
	against nine poisons and against nine infections:
	Against the red poison, against the foul poison.
	against the yellow poison, against the green poison,
	against the black poison, against the blue poison,
	against the brown poison, against the crimson poison.
	Against worm-blister, against water-blister,
	against thorn-blister, against thistle-blister,
	against ice-blister, against poison-blister.
	Against harmfulness of the air, against harmfulness of the ground,
	agaist harmfulness of the sea.
	If any poison comes flying from the east,
	or any from the north, [or any from the south,]
	or any from the west among the people.
	Christ stood over diseases of every kind.
	I alone know a running stream,
	and the nine adders beware of it.
	May all the weeds spring up from their roots,
	the seas slip apart, all salt water,
	when I blow this poison from you.

Mugwort, plantain open form the east, lamb's cress, venom-loather, camomile, nettle, crab-apple, chevil and fennel, old soap; pound the herbs to a powder, mix them with the soap and the juice oaf the apple. Then prepare a paste of water and of ashes, take fennel, boil it with the paste and wash it with a beaten egg when you apply the salve, both before and after.

Sing this charm three times on each of the herbs before you (he) prepare them, and likewise on the apple. And sing the same charm into the mouth of the man and into both his ears, and on the wound, before you (he) apply the salve.

So the Nine Anglo Saxon Herbs are:

  • mugwort,
  • waybroad (Plantain or waybread)),
  • stime (watercress),
  • atterlothe,
  • maythen (camomile),
  • wergulu (nettle),
  • crab-apple,
  • chervil and
  • fennel.

    All of the herbs in this charm have been identified, except for Atterlothe which is usually translated as "Venom Loather". Most frequently, Betony is subsituted for Atterlothe, as a cure all for maladies of the soul.

    However, there is a much better candidate for Atterlothe. Translated here as venom-loather, In Old English the word was attorlade. In the normal cause of the transition from germanic to the hybrid language today know as english, Attor became Adder, which is the name of the only poisonous snake in the British Isles.

    Adder's tongue has occasionally been floated as the missing herb, but apart from the name similarity, this herb has no effect on the veonomous bite of the snakes.

    The adder, however, also goes by another name: Viper. In England the two words are synonymous with one another. Now read the section about Atterloathe again:

    	This is the herb that fought against the snake, 
    	it has power against poison, it has power against infection, 
    	it has power against the loathsome foe roving through the land. 
    	Put to flight now, Venom-loather, the greater poisons, 
    	though you are the lesser, 
    	you the mightier, conquer the lesser poisons, until he is cured of both. 

    There is only one herb currently known that still grows in england and is known by the name 'viper' which has the above properties. That herb is:

    Viper's Bugloss Echium vulgare (Boraginaceae)

    Bugloss comes from Bug (which meant terror, disgust or on occasion, insect) and Loss which came from loathe, destroy, destruction. In other words it is the destroyer of the Viper's nasty venom. It can be used as a tonic, an antiseptic and adds milk to the breasts of lactating women. It can ease pains in the loin, back and kidneys. And it is potent against adder venom!

    Culpeper's Complete Herbal (circa 17th century) describes Viper's as follows: "It is a most gallant herb of the Sun; it is a pity it is no more in use than it is. It is an especial remedy against the biting of the Viper, and all other venomous beasts, or serpents; as also against poison, or poisonous herbs. Discorides and others say, That whosoever shall take of the herb or root before they be bitten, they shall not be hurt by the poison of any serpent."

    Is Viper's Bugloss the missing Anglo-Saxon herb? It is the only herb that is a good match in terms of its name, its uses and its presence in Anglo-Saxon Britain. So, perhaps the mystery has finally been solved at last!

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