I: Hazelwort

A hazelwort a day keeps the witches away.

primidi, the 21st of Brumaire, Year CCXXXI
The spiraling leaves of a sprouting asarabacca. Photo by Joost J. Bakker.

Good morning. Today is primidi, the 21st of Brumaire, Year CCXXXI. We celebrate la bacchante, a flowering ground cover that can substitute for ginger in a pinch.

This plant has a lot of names based on what it's kind of like. The roots kind of taste like ginger, so you'll often see it called "wild ginger." The leaves and flowers have a camphor smell that's kind of like baccharis, so that's how it got its French name as well as the scientific-ish modern name of asarabacca. The flowers look like spikenard, so it's sometimes called, yep, "wild spikenard" or, even more amusingly, "country nard." We're going with its traditional English name, which comes from its propensity to grow in very damp hardwood forests, and thus was often seen at the foot of hazel trees.

European peasants had a real problem with milk thieves. Not the kind in striped shirts with masks and a bindle – the kind in pointy hats flying on a broom. Back when it was difficult to determine why a cow or a sheep or a goat would suddenly stop making milk, the phenomenon was blamed on witches casting a spell to magically transport the milk to their own homes (since, the theory went, as childless abominations, they could make no milk of their own).

In Germany – the nexus of these beliefs that spread throughout Scandinavia and down into the Balkans – these witches were called Milchzauber. They enlisted hares to do their dirty work, and there was only one way to stop it: fight magic with magic.