The Scary Herbs of Halloween

Get the scoop on the spookiest fruits and herbs of Halloween.

| October/November 2007

  • In Europe, carved turnips were used to scare off evil spirits. The tradition continues today in Switzerland.
    Nate Skow

  • North Wind Picture Archives
  • Halloween party-goers bobbed for apples in 19th-century Ireland. The first to bite an apple was believed to be the first to wed in the coming year.
    North Wind Picture Archives
  • Long considered a source of protection, the elderberry makes tasty and healthful jam, juice and tea.
    Steven Foster

It’s a dark night in autumn. Days are becoming shorter and colder. Harvest time is ending, and pantries are being stocked with fruits and nuts for winter. Inside, beside a warm fire, an old uncle tells ghost stories. Firelight gleams on a bowl of red apples, ready for fortune telling and games. Spiced cider flows, and young people, some wearing odd costumes, dance under the flickering light of turnip lanterns.

Herbs of Halloween Recipes:

Pumpkin and Apple Tart Recipe
Elderberry Cordial Recipe

Turnip Lanterns

Many customs of the holiday we call Halloween date to traditions across prehistoric Europe. But turnip lanterns, at least in the United States, have been replaced by easier-to-carve pumpkins, with—let’s face it—more impressive, large, orange shapes. A glowing turnip or pumpkin, however, has the same purpose: to drive away the darkness, scare away the spooks, and light the way to the next party.

Centuries ago, when rooms were illuminated by fire, Europe’s inhabitants were farmers or herders whose lives depended on knowing the rhythms of the year. Halloween (or Samhain, as it once was called) falls on the midpoint between the fall equinox and the winter solstice. According to the Celtic calendar, which began its holidays on the eve before, Halloween was the start of the new year.

“To understand the significance of these seasonal festivals, we need to step back in time for a moment, closer to the food production cycle than most of us are today,” says Bettina Arnold, co-director of the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Celtic Studies. Certain food plants had important ties to the holiday’s meaning.

First the Apple

Native to eastern Turkey and southwestern Russia, apples have a long relationship with civilization and its myths and symbols. As members of the rose family, apples and their flowers have associations with Venus, goddess of love and fertility.

11/6/2014 10:53:48 AM

You mean apples and turnips aren't herbs??!?

10/30/2014 1:22:23 PM

Well, THAT was disappointing! There's only ONE herb in your herbs of Hallowe'en piece.

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