It’s no secret that the plant kingdom has been responsible for creating more than its fair share of superstitions and wacky beliefs over the last few centuries. There are plants that guarantee good luck, prosperity, longevity, romance — and even a few that will repel demonic entities and supernatural beasts from sneaking into the house, like those carved pumpkins that were scattered all over front porches last week. Surprisingly, quite a few of these superstitions have managed to navigate their way through history and into our modern lexicon.
If you want your dreams to come true, the Druids and other tree worshipping cultures would have told you to ‘touch wood’ or ‘knock on wood’ to acknowledge and awaken spirits that live within trees. As the story goes, whoever does the knocking will be granted their wish, with the added bonus of being protected from evil, misfortune and just about everything else that can go wrong. But if you want to try this at home, don’t bother knocking on the coffee table or the head of that witless son-in-law because these snoozing spirits can only be found in the wood of live oak trees.
If it’s good fortune you are after, catch a falling leaf for a day of luck, or even better, catch two at once to extend your lucky streak to a month. Finding a four-leaf clover is like hitting the jackpot in the lucky sweepstakes but you will need to be blessed before you even begin to search because the chances of stumbling across one of these genetic mutations are about 1 in 10,000.
There are plenty of evil spirits and scary creatures out there these days but lucky for us there’s no shortage of plants we can use to keep them at bay. An apple a day might keep the doctor away but if you rub the apple first it will also keep away any devilish phantoms that may be lurking nearby. If those pesky bloodthirsty vampires have been a problem lately, just wear a garland of garlic to prevent them from nibbling on your neck. Garlic bulbs are also very effective in repelling werewolves and other creatures that like to bite you — although as far as I can tell, a few cloves scattered around the backyard won’t do much to prevent the raccoons from turning over the green bin or discourage coyotes from lounging around the deck.
Plants are also popular in marriage and fertility folklore. One bizarre British superstition warns that if you have a daughter, don’t plant a hydrangea near the front door of the house because she will remain a spinster for the rest of her life.
However, kissing under the mistletoe will more or less guarantee a mate for life and if the smooching ends up in a marriage, wedding guests are obliged to shower the newly mistletoe’d couple with grains of rice as a sure fire way to help out in the baby-making department. Sweeping rice off the sidewalk might annoy the church custodian but it’s probably better than cleaning up the mess caused by pelting the bride and groom with fresh eggs, a tradition still favoured by some European cultures.
Of course, I’m not usually a believer in any of this hocus-pocus, but as I nervously watched the Blue Jays march up the ladder to a berth in the World Series I decided I should help them out by inventing my own superstition. Barley is an excellent source of luck so I convinced myself that my favourite beer glass — a behemoth about the size and weight of a bucket of paint — had to be full of Kilkenny by the first pitch or the Jays were doomed.
Well, we all know how that worked out.
In retrospect I probably should have caught a couple of leaves and knocked three times on the old oak tree in the backyard to give the barley a boost. And next time I’ll have to remember to try out the ancient Greek superstition of wearing a string of violets around my neck to prevent intemperance, gluttony and foolish behaviour.