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BirthwortBirthwort (Aristolochia clematitis) Info

Magickally, this plant has been used to drive out demons. It seems to have a lot of possibility for ritual work, both in its connection to death and to snakes (Gerard describes it as an antidote to snakebite, perhaps along the lines of fire-fights-fire). It was in the past used against often fatal diseases, such as plague, which reinforces the death connection, but it has also been associated with pregnancy since ancient Thebes (interesting death/life thing going on there). The flowers would make an especially interesting incense for those working with Mother spirits. This magick herb obviously has an affinity for people, as it likes to be close to humans, growing especially in orchards and gardens, so it must have much to teach us, despite its poisonous nature. Top

Birthwort flowerRelated to Dutchman's pipe, Virginia snakeroot, and wild ginger, birthroot is a classic medieval garden plant. Now considered a native plant in England, it was probably introduced there by clerics who had cultivated it in the Mediterranean. It can still be found growing wild around some abandoned monasteries and convents in England, but it is rare enough to be protected. In North America, it escaped from early Colonial gardens and eventually became naturalized in open woodlands around the Great Lakes. Birthwort is also known as smearwort and clematitide. Top

Warning: This herb is not a good candidate for self-medication. In terms of its toxicity, consider that Pliny described how fisherman would throw it into the water to poison fish. Likewise, one of its common names reveals its toxic power: Venom of the Earth. This plant also warns of its toxicity through its smell: The bright yellow flowers have the scent of decaying flesh and attract small flies as pollinators. Uterus and skin are Venus areas of the body, so one might consider this a Venus plant, albeit a dark one, and many list it as such. However, I think it is clearly associated with Saturn: its flowers are relatively insignificant, it likes to grow in woodlands and borders, it's poisonous, and it has an unpleasant smell, specifically, the smell of death. Top

How to grow birthwort: Pre-soak the seeds for 48 hours in water hot to the touch and then sow on the soil surface. Some people cold stratify the seed for 2-3 months first in a freezer. Or sow on Winter Solstice (see the Solstice Sowing page). This seed is also a good candidate for the soaking method. It germinates in 1-3 months at 55-60F/15-20C. Transplant to pots in dappled shade. The young plants need winter protection their first year. The following spring after all danger of frost, plant in the ground in rich soil and dappled shade. This clambering plant especially likes to grow along creeks and the edges of woodlands. The flowers appear July-September. Birthwort spreads by rhizomes and can be invasive. Divide in fall if you want more plants. It is perennial to zone 6 (-10F/-23C). General growing info Top


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Uses in Witchcraft & Magic:

Mother Magick
Saturn/Venus Herb

2004, 2014 Harold A. Roth; no reproduction of any part without permission.