WARNING: THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE IS INTENDED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. IT CONCERNS PLANTS WHICH WILL NOT ONLY GET YOU HIGH, BUT VERY POSSIBLY GET YOU DEAD.
Mugwort, one of the 9 sacred herbs of Anglo-Saxon England, is a member of the artemisia family, and a close relative of wormwood, the flavouring agent of absinthe. While the life-ruining hallucinogenic qualities of that drinks turned out, under the scrutiny of recent science, not to have been caused by wormwood at all, but probably by the methanol / lighter fluid / rat poison that found its way into the mix, the artemisias do seem to have another less catastrophic property: weird dreaming. Mugwort, consumed as a tea or smoked hippy-style through a wooden, Gandalf-looking pipe, is anecdotally reported to bring greater intensity, vividness, weirdness and memorability to the night’s dreams. Conveniently unverifiable, but I’ll throw my own anecdote into the hat and say it worked for me. One explanation might be that mugwort contains thujone, a drug which can be poisonous in high doses and disturb sleep in low doses. Perhaps these sleep disturbances ensure shallow sleep and longer stretches of REM.
Yarrow is a medicinal herb, historically used to pack wounds on battlefields, numbing the pain and discouraging bacterial infection. It was also often used as a bittering agent and preservative in medieval ale. And that’s where we get interested. Apparently, yarrow and alcohol is a match made in heaven (it certainly works well in our forest herb liqueur), with the yarrow increasing intoxication while suppressing some of the unwanted symptoms of drunkenness – the sleepiness, the brain fog, the slurring. The unimaginative might say that these supposed powers of yarrow are purely subjective, and indistinguishable from the placebo effect. But remember, any sufficiently powerful placebo effect is indistinguishable from medieval witchcraft. And vice versa.
3: Fly Agaric
Amanita Muscaria, the greetings card mushroom, is not the classic magic mushroom. That’s psylocybe semilanceata – the liberty cap, which has, since the mid noughties, been a class A drug, even when growing fresh and wild. The fly agaric, however, is completely legal. If eaten fresh, it’s dangerously poisonous, and likely to cause vomiting, palpitations and general terror. Dried and ingested with caution, it is reported to give magical hallucinations, changing the mushroom-eater’s perceptions of size and time. It’s also known to increase alcoholic intoxication, and was used to adulterate spoiled beer, making up for low alcoholic strength with mushroom madness. We’re currently looking into the legalities of recreating such a recipe…
A member of the nightshade family. This is serious stuff. You’ll trip balls, yes, but they’re the kind of balls you trip because you’re about to die. Henbane is deadly poisonous, chock full of scopolamine and hyoscyamine, and has been used as a primitive anaesthetic for women in childbirth. That said, if you’re careful, it’s possible to see some pretty crazy stuff. Witches on their way to dance with the devil at midnight on a moonless night, we hear on the pagan grapevine, used to mix it with the fat of animals (or, you know, unbaptised babies) and apply it directly to their crotches with a broom handle. Go figure. Henbane also sometimes found its way into the cocktail of herbs used to make gruit ale, the medieval drink of choice before hops became ubiquitous.
5: Deadly Nightshade
Another nightshade, similar to henbane and just as dangerous. Also known as belladonna, because women would use it as part of their beauty regimen, dripping extract of the plant onto their eyeballs to cause irresistible pupil dilation. Think Japanese cartoon characters.
Valerian root has long been known to help with sleep. A natural sedative, chewing it before bed can soothe anxiety and help insomniacs get back into a natural sleep pattern. But, like synthetic sleeping pills, fun things happen if you use it and then stay awake. At university, I once drank some valerian tea to soothe me through a particularly stressful essay. Fifteen minutes later I floated out of the window.
7: Brain Fungus
Also known as cauliflower of the woods, sparassis crispa and “pine noodles”, this mushroom is indescribably delicious, but I’m shocked to see how under-reported its psychotropic properties are. If you smoke mugwort to make your dreams more real, you eat brain fungus to make your real life more like a dream. It’s not Sergeant Pepper-like psychedelia – it’s the strange of logic of dreams that this mushroom captures. For days after eating it you remain totally lucid but full of strange ideas and creative intelligence. Connections form between distant parts of the brain. New sense is made by this mushroom – a must for musicians, writers and inventors.
If you’re interested in learning more about the philosophy of witchcraft and herbal magic, and sampling some of the safer herbs on this list, why not join us on one of our herbal magic and folklore walks?