No, I am not 2 months early.
Originally Halloween was a Celtic Pagan festival, Samhain, celebrating the successful harvest as well as the Celtic New Year. There are a lot of practising Pagans who will be celebrating the New Year today. Of course, when the Christian missionaries came to convert the “heathens”, they took the festivals of the Pagans and made them their own. It is a great conversion technique. “You have a party then?! Well, how cool, so do we!” The name Halloween derives from All Hallows Eve, and the Day of All Hallows (All Saints in common parlance) is tomorrow, 1st November.
In the Old World, people used to carve turnips and then light a candle in them to drive away the darkness, scare away spooks and light the way for the souls to cross over into the other world. In the New World, they used pumpkins. To be honest, pumpkins are a lot easier to carve than turnips. A lot easier.
Are there any other herbs or plants that are associated with this feast of All Hallows Eve?
Obviously, as we have already looked at, we have Pumpkins. Apparently the first settlers in what is now the USA used to take a pumpkin, fill it will milk and spices and then bake it whole on the hearth. This would appear to be the beginnings of the pumpkin pie and every pumpkin spice lattes. The seeds are a great source of zinc plus are jolly tasty, the oil helps to fight bacterial and fungal infections, and the flesh of the pumpkin itself is a feast of vitamins A and C. A pumpkin contains a whole lot of fibre which is something that modern diets are sadly lacking, and it also contains beta carotene which is great for the vision. Other good news for the eyes comes in the form of antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin which are known to help prevent cataracts.
But pumpkins are not the only fruit associated with Halloween. You have apples as well. A traditional game to play at Halloween is bobbing for apples. It is thought that whoever gets the first apple will be the first person to marry. And if you peel an apple and through the peel over your left shoulder, then the peel will fall into the initial of the person you will marry. Fruit as a means of divination? I have heard of crazier things… though I think I will stick with the old adage of “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”.
Another fruit associated with Halloween, and with customs going back to Germany, is the elderberry. Apparently the elderberry is linked to the Germanic Goddess Holle, who was considered to be the guardian of the dead. Her job on Halloween was to guide the souls from this world into the next. Holle still exists in Halloween as a caricature of an old witch, but in Germanic pagan history she was a kindly old grandmother who took messages to your dead loved ones, written on paper with elderberry juice. The links don’t stop there. People used to carry elder wood for protection, tied prayers to the boughs of the trees and left apples beneath it as an offering.
These days elderberries are used a lot for their health benefits. The flowers can be used in a tea which can relieve cold and flu symptoms. The berries are also rich in Vitamin C and other antioxidants which means they can be very beneficial to beefing up the immune system in the form of palatable syrups.
However you decide to celebrate Halloween, be it with pumpkins or turnips, apples or elderberries, I hope you will all stay safe. This year my husband and I will not be encouraging trick or treaters to come to the door. In the UK, trick or treating is not as ubiquitous as it is in North America, and so we shall be drawing the curtains, closing the gate and enjoying an evening to ourselves, whilst listening out for anything going bump in the night.