Botanicals, Supplements, Pharmaceuticals

The Herbal Bible

From the desk of Joseph Patrick Jakubal

One key to our past (and to human imagination) lies in the traditional customs and beliefs of native peoples. Plant magic can lead mankind in the direction of new medicines and self-knowledge.

Many of the drugs and medicines we buy at the pharmacies actually contain the same active ingredients as the healing plants used by prescientific cultures.

Mankind has always sought to dominate the awsome forces of nature. Plants have been harvested to provide him with food, weapons, shelter, clothing, healing, and much more. Is it really surprising that prior societies have associated them with magic?

It isn't difficult to understand why our ancestors viewed plant life as magical ... simply observe forests and fields die in the fall and then come back to life in the spring ... buds magically bursting into leaves and new life appearing from the ground.

Prior societies were astute observers of nature because the plants furnished them with most of the requirements of life. Many plants characteristics probably confused our ancestors ... characteristics like a sunflower moving throughout the day to face the sun ... or a morning glory which only opens up when the sun rises.

Unable to formulate scientific answers for these behaviors, primitive humans created a magical world of nymphs and sprits inhabiting trees and the rest of the countryside. They believed that these spirit entities were both beneficial and harmful.

Our forefarthers were dependent on botanicals for their daily needs and embraced them as an aid in their struggles with life. If the magical powers of plants could be harnessed then maybe they could also control future events or counteract bad luck.


The remains of a Neanderthal man was found in Iraq after sixty-thousand years ... the burial ground reveals that marshmallow, groundsel, and yarrow were important herbs.

Cuneiform clay tablets from Iraq also show that opium, thyme, licorice, mustard, garlic, saffron, senna leaves, and coriander were all important plants of early humans.

The Egyptians

An ancient Egyptian medical text called the Ebers Papyrus (16th century B.C) mentions aloe, peppermint, myrrh, mandragora, henbane, hemp dogbane, and castor oil.

Many current medications use "primary" ingredients that are the same as the medicinal plants from which they were obtained. Investigators are discovering, however, that many of the "new" medications cause undesirable side-effects due to the fact thta the "primary" ingredients are purified.

It appears that the original, unpurified, botanical medicines have built-in safety measures that diminish many of the side-effects of the "primary" ingredients.


In antiquity China also had it's share of plant remedies ... for example, leprosy was treated with chaulmoogra.

The Chinese used mahuang to diminish fevers, relieve lung disorders and inhibit coughing. Modern science has now identified the "active" ingredient ... ephedrine, which is now being used to treat asthma and other respiratory illnesses.


An ancient Indian document called The Veda was originally written in Sanskrit and mentions medicinal uses for snakeroot which included mental disorders, and epilepsy. Today, it is used as a tranquilizer.

Other mentioned plants included rhubarb, aconite, opium, poppy, and hemp dogbane.


Early shamans and witch doctors sought to treat illnesses with a combination of prayer and magic potions ... local herbs were normally used and much trial-and error must have occurred to isolate plants that were effective on specific ailments ... or so it seems.

It is interesting to note that different cultures separated by oceans were using medicinal plants that were closely linked to each other for the same types of sicknesses.

Throughout human history, all it took were a few "contacts" to direct a person to a local witch. Here a male or a female would provide a service (for a price) like ... casting spells ... or mixing up magic potions ... or making charms.

There were good and bad witches ... the "good" one's usually served their communities by providing herbal medications.

If a woman found herself pregnant with an unwanted baby then it was the witch who provided a "brew" that would result in a miscarriage. Or if a male had a girlfriend who was unresponsive to his advancements then a witch's potion could be purchased to break through her barriers.

Witches were ancient guardians of plant knowledge ... they typically cultivated a "secret garden" hidden in the forest where they grew their magical herbs. Two "essential" plants were mandrake and henbane.

Witches would "enahance" the powers of plants by growing them on sacred grounds and performing magical rituals to give them new properties. For example, witches would prize mandrake that was grown at the site of a gallows tree. When the root was newly harvested it would go through the ritual of being "bathed in wind, surrounded in velvet and silk, and fed every week with a sacrificial host (wafer) stolen during communion".

Henbane ... also called Jupiter's bean was harvested at night when the moon was in an exact position. This is the plant that that gave witches the ability to fly. The henbane was used to concoct an ointment that was then mixed with the fat of dead children, the blood of bat, toads, and vipers. The witch would take trips through time and space by rubbing this salve into his/her skin. Later her recollections would give rise to magical stories.

The juice of Atropa belladonna was used to make eye drops that caused an attractive look (they dilated the eyes) for their female customers..

Potions were sold that made the object of one's passion, supposedly, lose all ability to resist seduction. The powerful aphrodisiac could be purchased from the local witch ... it was made from the "thorn apple" (jimsonweed).

There have also been reports of witches who hired themselves out as assassins to accelerate an inheritance or kill a rival ... if her ritualistic spells failed to do the job then a deadly poison potion was "brewed" from the nightshade family of plants.

Angelica was suppose to endow one with protection against any witch or witchcraft ... while a yew tree attracted witches but was a barrier to other forms of evil.

During World War II an herb from the "witches garden" was found to be the only known antidote to a certain nerve gas that Germany had developed ... It was an odorless, colorless and highly lethal gas that could only be counteracted with a belladonna

Another famous "witches herb" was "witch's bells" (foxglove) which later became deveolped into digitalis ... a powerful cardiac medicine.


In the western hemisphere, traditional mythes about plants united with the belief systems of black people.

Witches of the black communities who used herbal medicine were called "doctors". They served the people of theiir communities by protecting families and friends from those who would do them harm, they would ward off illnesses, diminish the powers of othe witches and nulify enemies.

In the year 1950 it was reported that voodoo was a thriving practice throughout America. A researcher named Harry M. Hyatt discovered that voodoo could be found throughout the United States ... from the ghettos in northern cities to the rural South. These "doctors of the occult" practiced their trade and believed totally in their "shields" ... which were potions bottled and kept in their pockets.

Samson snakeroot was used to counteract poisons. Milk from a black cow was combined with green gourd seeds to free a person from the hex of another doctor.

A dying old man was cured by immersing his feet in a bath made from pokeweed root and running brier.

Another common herb was devil's shoestring which was used for "conjuring".


Aloe: We must include Aloe as a magical botanical due to it's amazing ability to regenerate damaged tissue. It is a part of the herbal folklore of the Middle East and was even used to embalm the body of Jesus (John 19:39) in the New Testament.

The Romans write that it's fresh juice will heal wounds and bruises.

Modern medicinal uses include ...

1) Radiation burns are treated using a salve made from aloe ... it is also used for minor burns and wounds.

2) It is also used in skin lotions because of it's ability to soften skin.

Alchemilla: Also called "lady's mantle" ... the herb was associated with eternal youth and could make an old woman's body look young again.

Amber: The Romans correctly identified amber as an exudation from trees. Worn at the neck it would make fevers go away, ward off tonsillitis and goiter, and help people concentrate by protecting them from "attacks of distraction".

Angelica: Legend tells us that it repelled evil spirits and enchantments and promoted long life ... it was thought that chewing it would provide protection against diseases.

Perfumes and oils are made from the seeds and the root.

Little scientific study is available on this relative of the carrot ... but it is not poisonous because the leafstalks are commonly eaten raw and cooked.

Garlic: The early sorcerers were called shamans and they tested plant life in the hopes of obtaining magical power. Garlic is a plant that has long been endowed with magical properties ... and if we consider the ability to prevent malnutrition as a magical power then garlic certainly "fills the bill". Miraculous benefits to health are now being attributed to garlic and it was also said to repel vampires and the plague. Medieval plague doctors strapped garlic around their faces as they treated the sick. Chinese, Jewish, and Greek matriarchs would present a clove of garlic to infants to ward off the "evil eye".

Belladonna: While many plants were discovered to have beneficial properties many others were considered evil due to their poisonous qualities.

Devilish brews were made using belladonna's toxic qualities. It was also known as witch's berry, nightshade, and sorcerer's cherry ... it was used in many murderous potions.

Although poisonous, this deadly member of the nightshade family is valuable to medicine. The leaves and roots contain the alkaloid atropine and are used in various preparations to relieve pain or spasm. The deadly nightshade is a 5-foot (1.5-meter) shrub with dull green leaves, purple bell-shaped flowers, black cherry-like fruit, and a disagreeable odor. Its scientific name is Artopa belladonna, and it is found in various parts of Europe and Asia.

Blue Blossomed Bittersweet: Another plant from the nightshade group of witch's herbs. It's foliage and berries taste both sweet and bitter. Also called "woody nightshade" it contains solanine which can cause convulsions and death.

Datura Metel: This is another member of the nightshade family and is found in India. Europeans said that the odors of the flower alone were enough to incapacitate someone passing by. This story was true ... although the aroma is not fatal, it can stupefy someone who breathes it. The active ingredient is scopolamine which is a powerful sedative and soporific.

Stories abound of the secret Indian society called the Thugs who would drug travelers to kill them in sacrifice to the goddess Kali.

Henbane: This plant has a bad reputation because every part of the plant is poisonous ... it was a favorite in "witch's brews".

It has a bad smell and can cause a slow and painful death. It is reported that henbane poisoning first causes a stupor and then a comatose sleep. Minute amounts are said to cause anything from dizziness to delirium.

Exact dosages are difficult to access so it is not wise to experiment even though it has been used to ease pain and spasms.

It has also been used externally as a rheumatism medicine to ease pain ... and as a cure for insomnia. By taking the juice of garden mint and shaking it together with a henbane seed ... you will obtain a mixture that was intended to be rubbed on the head to induce sleep.

Modern science tells us ...

(1) It is a narcotic called hyoscyamine which is the active ingredient in the plant which has been used as a sedative and to relieve muscle spasms.

(2) Another narcotic has also been found called "scopolamine" which is also a sedative and muscle relaxant.

(3) A third substance is also contained called, "atropine" which is used commonly to dilate the eyes.

Holly: The ancient druids claimed that the holly was a refuge in the winter time for wood spirits ... so to hang them in the home protected one from bad fortune.

Mandrake: This is another potent drug that can kill. It has a reputation in the Mediterranean area as a supernatural plant. It has been an important source of therapeutic medicine.

Part of it's reputation comes from the phosphorescence in it's leaves ... a "glow" which can be seen. And added to this is the actuality that the root of the plant looks like a small human.

Mandrake was believed to be poisonous when it glowed ... and just touching it would be lethal.

According to legend, a gardener could obtain a certain defense against demon spirits by harvesting the plant in a unique manner. He would dig all around the root until a tiny portion remained covered. A dog would be lashed to the root and had to pull it out of the ground.

Mandrake was also thought to protect people from battle, cure diseases, bring luck, and promote fertility. The Bible associates mandrake with aphrodisiacs in the Song of Solomon ... where a maiden invites her lover into the field where mandrake gives forth fragrance.

Even the oldest book of the Bible ... the book of Genesis ... mentions mandrake as a root of "fertility". Two daughters competed for the affection of Jacob and tried to bear him a son ... but Rachel was successful only after eating mandrake roots.

Mistletoe: Mistletoe and the tree they grow in, the oak, were considered sacred by the Druids ... the priest of the ancient Celts.

The Druids would gather six days after the new moon to harvest mistletoe in an oak grove. One priest would climb a tree and remove the mistletoe with a golden sickle ... others would stand below to snatch the falling plants in a white robe. It was thought that the mistletoe would lose it's magical characteristics if it was allowed to touch the ground.

The plant was then boiled and blended into a magical brew that had health-giving properties during a ritual which saw the sacrifice of two white bulls.

Throughout history mistletoe has been hung in homes to ward off witchcraft, disease, and bad luck.

Very little research has been conducted on mistletoe but there are indications that it may have sedative properties. Scientific evidence has not been presented to indicate that it is effective in treating high blood pressure as some claim.

Some sources suggest that it is effective in inducing menstruation and in treating tumors in lab animals.

Due to the lack of scientific study, mistletoe should not be taken internally. There is a question about toxic levels.

Myrrh: Myrrh is a small tree (Commiphora myrrha) that grows in Africa and Arabia ... it has a pleasant smell when burned which was thought to please the gods. Legend says that the Egyptian god Amon was so pleased with offerings of myrrh that he offered "life, stability, and satisfaction ... forever".

Myrrh is customarily used in medicine and perfumery as a gum resin obtained from the tree.

Nightshade: Several weedlike relatives of the potato have toxins in their leaves, berries, or roots. These plants range in toxicity from mild to deadly. The common, or black nightshade (Solanum nigrum) grows about 12 inches high and has pointed, oval leaves, drooping clusters of white flowers, and small black berries. When eaten raw the nightshade can be poisonous, but when it is boiled its leaves may be eaten or its berries used in pies and preserves. It is found in Europe and North America.

Onion: To the ancient Egyptians the onion was more than a vegetable ... it was the symbol of the universe. The Egyptians believed that the universe is a series of worlds wrapped in the layers represented by the onion.

Onions were offered to the gods as sacrificial gifts ... and people could use them when they took an oath. Just as people today swear on the Bible ... ancient peoples took their oaths on an onion.

Papyrus: This is a reed that grows in the Nile river ... it became an ancient symbol for youth, vigor, and freshness. If one would wear an amulet that was in the form of papyrus, it would ensure the wearer with long life.

St. John's Wort: The plant blooms at the time of the summer solstice and is therefore linked to paganism.

For many centuries it was the Church that controlled medicine ... and it was during this time that well-known medicinal plants were associated and named after Christian saints. Since the summer solstice corresponds to the birthday of St John the Baptist (June 24th), it was natural that the Christian priests renamed it, St. John's Wort and used it to cast out devils and repel witches.

The ancient Greeks also believed that the fragrance of the plant could ward off evil spirits.

American Indians made a tea from the plant for respiratory problems like tuberculosis ... laboratory tests have shown extracts to be active against the bacteria that causes tuberculosis.

Many herbalists use it to make a topical ointment for wounds and insect bites (extracts have been shown to exhibit anti-inflammatory activity in lab animals).

DANGER - Drinking teas made from St. John's Wort can cause a photosensitizing substance to appear at the skin which makes light skinned individuals more likely to burn from the sun.

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