Witch’s Bouquet: Mandrake, Wolfsbane, Poppy, Belladonna and Hemlock
This watercolor, gouache and pen illustration was inspired by the herbal ingredients involved in making a witch’s ‘flying ointment’; a salve composed of different plants that are often deadly when ingested, but when applied topically impart the hallucinatory sensation of flight.
Mandragora officinarum or mandrake root is known for it’s psychotropic qualities and humanoid shape. In fact, the many practitioners of herbalism and occult ritual would go as so far as gender the homunculus as male or female and effecting the belief that the plant when harvested the root would emit a fatal scream. Therefore it was common practice to tie a dog to the base of the plant with a long rope and beckoning the dog from outside shouting distance from the root.
Wolfsbane, also know as aconite or monkshood for it’s unusual helmet-like petals, is a particularly fatal flower.Traditionally cultivated for the manufacture of poison-tipped arrows for hunting, warfare and as the name suggests, protection against wolves. Flints dipped in a tincture of Wolfsbane are know as elf-bolts, a single scratch being fatal to the victim, classify aconite as one of the ‘baneful herbs’.
Opium poppy, though well-recognized for the modern manufacture of opiates, is universally recognized as a bringer of sleep, oblivion and death. Sleep in the sedative properties of opium, a contentious drug used medicinally and recreationally since before antiquity. Death for it’s blood red color, the symbol of the poppy is often found depicted on tombstones and associated with wartime remembrance. Think of the poppy fields that threaten Dorothy with eternal sleep in “The Wizard of Oz”.
Belladonna, or deadly nightshade, receives its name from its popularity as cosmetic eye drops. This product derived from the juice of its berries was used to increase the pupil size in order to make the gaze appear more seductive; in Italian ‘belladonna’ translates as ‘beautiful woman’.
Poison Hemlock, as it’s name suggests is, well, poisonous. Go figure. This plant, whose delicate white sprays so resemble the benign Queen Anne’s Lace and belongs to the same family as the parsnip, carrot and fennel, has a dark employment. In Ancient Greece, a fatal draught of Hemlock was administered to condemned criminals, most notably the philosopher Socrates as depicted in the Neoclassical painting, ‘Death of Socrates’, by Jacques Louis-David.
Witch's Bouquet quantity