Nine Herbs Charm

Nine Herbs Charm
Nine Herbs Charm

The Nine Herbs Charm is an Old English charm recorded in the 10th-century Lacnunga manuscript. The charm is intended for the treatment of poisoning and infection by a preparation of nine herbs. The numbers nine and three, significant in Norse heathenism and later Germanic folklore, are mentioned frequently within the charm. The poem contains references to English Heathen elements, including a mention of the major Norse God Woden.

Herbs

The charm references nine herbs:

  • Mucgwyrt Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)
  • Stune Lamb’s cress (Cardamine hirsuta)
  • Wegbrade Plantain (Plantago)
  • Mægðe Mayweed (Matricaria)
  • Stiðe Nettle (Urtica)
  • Wergulu Crab-apple (Malus)
  • Fille (Thyme)
  • Finule Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)

At the end of the charm, prose instructions are given to take the above-mentioned herbs, crush them to dust, and to mix them with old soap and apple juice. Further instructions are given to make a paste from water and ashes, boil fennel into the paste, bathe it with beaten egg – both before and after the prepared salve is applied.

Further, the charm directs the reader to sing the charm three times over each of the herbs as well as the apple before they are prepared, into the mouth of the wounded, both of their ears, and over the wound itself prior to the application of the salve.

Woden

The poem contains one of two Old English mentions of Woden in Old English poetry; the other is Maxims I of the Exeter Book. The paragraph reads as follows:

A snake came crawling, it bit a man.
Then Woden took nine glory-twigs,
Smote the serpent so that it flew into nine parts.
There apple brought this pass against poison,
That she nevermore would enter her house.

Suggestions have been made that this passage describes Woden coming to the assistance of the herbs through his use of nine twigs, each twig inscribed with the runic first-letter initial of a plant.