Our own gardens contain beauty and plenty. But they also contain scary secrets a’plenty, never-mind Halloween trickery. Plant folklore is rich in stories that pair ordinary everyday objects, and even plants with evil intent. We aren’t talking about the imaginary, insatiable Audrey, the carnivorous plant from “Little Shop of Horrors,” but rather common things like garlic, which, it turns out, is not just the vampire-banisher we thought it was. Rather in plant folklore it is something far more sinister. And yet there is redemption in the garden too.

The Devil’s footprints, that’s one myth about the origins of garlic. Courtesy of Lynette Walther

Garlic

Common “wisdom” features this lowly allium, as the sure cure to repel vampires. Nothing like a necklace of those stinking “lilies” to thwart Count Dracula and other demons. But look deeper into this potent member of the onion family and you’ll uncover a very dark secret indeed.

Myth has it that when Lucifer was evicted from the Garden of Eden, his own footsteps were marked with garlic that sprang forth. Nothing like the power of evil to push back another form of wickedness. For centuries those so inclined have turned to the “protective” powers of garlic by rubbing it on their chimneys, or hanging it in doorways. The goddess Hecate has been implored for her own powers to help in childbirth, or repulse demons by means of placing heads of garlic at crossroads, or hanging it in birthing rooms. Banish the “evil eye,” that glare-inflicted curse with a dose of garlic, or, better yet, use it to season your bowl of caesar salad.

Blackberry

Leave it to the angels to turn these thorny berry bushes into myth and mystery and yeah, old Lucifer is wrapped up in this juicy tale as well. When Lucifer was vanquished from Heaven by the Archangel Michael, the sore loser landed in a patch of blackberries. Filled with rage at his downfall, he is reported to have spit, pissed and kicked the canes. His curse rendered the berries inedible if eaten after Michaelmas Day. Fortunately, that date falls after most blackberries are harvested and enjoyed. You may have heard of this myth because for some odd reason National Poisoned Blackberries Day actually is a holiday. I kid you not.

Stinging Nettle

Wow, big surprise that stinging nettle has an evil backstory, eh? On the one hand myth has it that carrying around a fresh piece of this vile plant can protect its host from evil spirits. (I’d suggest one of those freezer-type zip-top plastic baggies for this purpose if you are so inclined, or expect to be facing vampires or ghouls anytime soon.) Sprinkle bits of it around your home to ward off evil — but I’d caution against walking barefoot indoors if you do that. Or better yet, use it to stuff an effigy of your nemesis — yeah, good luck with doing that. The way this form of totem is reputed to have its power leads us back to good old Lucifer himself. Again, his first footsteps on earth after being tossed out of Heaven, resulted in nettle-filled footsteps.

And there’s another rather complex story about nettles and Lucifer when he was given buckwheat and oats. So happy with this gift the Devil began singing about his largess. Worried that this Devil would take advantage of the fact that humans relied on those grains, an angel connived a song about “nettles and thistles” which confused the vocalizing Devil. Seizing upon that moment of confusion, the angel switched the seeds, replacing the seeds with those of nettles. Realizing the trickery, old quick-to-anger Lucifer cursed the nettles with a burning itch for all eternity. To this day nettles are also called Devil’s Leaf, Naught Man’s Plaything — Naught Man is another name for the Devil — and Devil’s Apron. It should be noted, however, that nettles are a nutritious and a medicinal plant with numerous benefits.

Parsley

Known far and wide as not only a garnish and culinary herb, parsley is also a beneficial herb reputed to improve digestion as well as freshen breath that might be tainted with the likes of garlic or other foods. However, give someone the root of this deep-rooted herb and you’ll be courting disaster, so legend goes. And, worse yet, if you cut the root your love life will take a turn for the worse. Notoriously difficult to start from seed, it is rumored that only witches can germinate parsley seeds. And if a virgin is unfortunate enough to plant parsley seeds, legend dictates that she will be doomed to give birth to the child of the Devil himself. Old Lucifer again raises his ugly head.

But, there’s hope for you culinary wizards who rely on parsley for dishes like tabbouleh or chimichurri. Plant those seeds on Good Friday, which allows them the time necessary for them to travel to Hell and back seven to nine times, and you’ll also need to plant nine times as many seeds as you want, because Lucifer apparently is also a big fan of parsley — must be for his notoriously bad breath — and he will keep the rest. And now you know why it takes so long for those parsley seeds to germinate.

We all know full well that there are many more plants that we grow that have mythical and actual properties — both good and bad — like foxgloves, monkshood, datura, oleander and others. Best to be aware and advised. Yes indeed thar’ be trouble ‘a brewin’ in those gardens and redemption there too — just a little something to contemplate on this witchery-time of the year.