At this time of year, shortening days and cooler temperatures make us think of holiday celebrations. Christmas with its promise of redemption and eternal life evokes many emotions and symbols. Part of the Christian tradition is the inclusion of the Manger Herbs in home decorations. Legend says these are the herbs Joseph gathered to make a bed for the new child.
Lady’s Bedstraw – Tradition states that before the birth of Jesus, the bedstraw flowers bloomed white. After the birth in the manger, the abundant bedstraw in the barn was used by Joseph and Mary to create a soft, sweet bed for the baby Jesus. Ever after, the herb’s blossoms turned to gold in honor of the royal birth.
Horehound – This herb is symbolic of good health and has always been used to combat illness and breaking evil spells. This healing herb is symbolic of Christ the Great Physician.
Rue – In Christian tradition, rue is known as the “herb o’ grace.” It symbolizes sorrow, clear vision, and true repentance. Tradition says rue protects against the Devil and can be used as an antidote against poison.
Sweet Garden Thyme – Legend says Joseph cut branches from a thyme bush to make a bed for Mary and the baby. Thyme is considered to be antiseptic making it a fitting addition to the manger. Thyme symbolized happiness, courage, and bravery. It is said to put venomous creatures to flight (for example that Great Serpent, the Devil).
Pennyroyal – This cousin of mint is one of the manger herbs perhaps for its ability to repel fleas, something one might encounter in a barn. Its symbolic meaning is “escape, flee” certainly a foreshadowing of the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt after the birth. Pennyroyal is said to bloom at midnight on Christmas Eve.
Rosemary – This hardy perennial was believed to have blue flowers because of Jesus’ mother Mary. Tradition says that the flowers of rosemary were once white. During the flight to Egypt, the Holy Family stopped briefly to rest. Mary threw her blue cloak on a rosemary bush rosemary, which ever after produced sky blue flowers.