The nine herbs charm is part of the Lacnunga text. The Lacnunga is an ancient 11th century Anglo-Saxon manuscript written around 1000 AD. The original manuscript, referred to as Harley 585, is currently housed in the British Museum. Various translations of the Lacnunga have been published throughout the years such as Stephen Pollington’s book Leechcraft; Early English Charms, Plant Lore and Healing.
The herbs mentioned in this charm are the nine sacred herbs of the Anglo-Saxons which were thought to have been given to humans by Woden, the God of healing.
The nine sacred herbs are:
-una = mugwort – Artemisisa vulgaris
-waybread = plantain – Plantago major
-stune = lamb’s cress – Nasturtium officinalis
-atterlothe = betony – Stachys betonica
-maythe = chamomile – Anthemis nobilis
-wergulu = nettle – Utricia dioca
-crab apple – Pyrus malus
-chervil – Anthriscus cerefolim
-fennel – Foeniculum vulgare
The Nine Herbs Charm was supposed to help the person reciting it to heal a sick person by invoking the god Woden and his skills as a healer.
“Remember, Mugwort, what you made known,
what you arranged at Regenmeld.
You were called Una, the oldest of herbs,
you have power against three and against thirty,
you have power against poison and against infection,
you have power against the loathsome foe roving through the land.
And you, waybread, mother of herbs,
open from the east, mighty inside.
Over you chariots creaked, over you queens rode,
over you brides cried out, over you bulls snorted.
You withstood all of them, you dashed against them.
May you likewise withstand poison and infection
and the loathsome foe roving through the land.
‘Stune’ is the name of this herb, it grew on a stone,
it stands up against poison, it dashes against poison,
it drives out the hostile one, it casts out poison.
This is the herb that fought against the snake,
it has power against poison, it has power against infection,
it has power against the loathsome foe roving through the land.
Now, atterlothe, put to flight now, Venom-loather, the greater poisons,
though you are the lesser,
you the mightier, conquer the lesser poisons, until he is cured of both.
Remember, maythe, what you made known,
what you accomplished at Alorford,
that never a man should lose his life from infection
after maythe was prepared for his food.
This is the herb that is called ‘Wergulu’.
A seal sent it across the sea-right,
a vexation to poison, a help to others.
It stands against pain, it dashes against poison,
it has power against three and against thirty,
against the hand of a fiend and against mighty devices,
against the spell of mean creatures.
There the Apple accomplished it against poison
that she [the loathsome serpent] would never dwell in the house.
Chervil and Fennel, two very mighty one.
They were created by the wise Lord,
holy in heaven as He hung;
He set and sent them to the seven worlds,
to the wretched and the fortunate, as a help to all.”
This section of the Nine Herbs Charm is sometimes referred to as the ‘Lay of the Nine Twigs of Woden’.
“These nine have power against nine poisons.
A worm came crawling, it killed nothing.
For Woden took nine glory-twigs,
he smote the adder that it flew apart into nine parts.
Now these nine herbs have power against nine evil spirits,
against nine poisons and against nine infections:
Against the red poison, against the foul poison.
against the yellow poison, against the green poison,
against the black poison, against the blue poison,
against the brown poison, against the crimson poison.
Against worm-blister, against water-blister,
against thorn-blister, against thistle-blister,
against ice-blister, against poison-blister.
Against harmfulness of the air, against harmfulness of the ground,
against harmfulness of the sea.
If any poison comes flying from the east,
or any from the north, [or any from the south,]
or any from the west among the people.
Woden stood over diseases of every kind.
I alone know a running stream,
and the nine adders beware of it.
May all the weeds spring up as herbs from their roots,
the seas slip apart, all salt water,
when I blow this poison from you.”
The following section of the Nine Herbs Charm describes how to prepare and use the nine healing herbs while singing, or chanting the charm.
“Mugwort, waybread open form the east, lamb’s cress, atterlothe, maythe, nettle, crab-apple, chervil and fennel, old soap; pound the herbs to a powder, mix them with the soap and the juice of the apple. Then prepare a paste of water and of ashes, take fennel, boil it with the paste and wash it with a beaten egg when you apply the salve, both before and after.
Sing this charm three times on each of the herbs before you prepare them, and likewise on the apple. And sing the same charm into the mouth of the man and into both his ears, and on the wound, before you apply the salve.”