"Filet of fenny snake, In the cauldron boil and bake; Eye Of Newt, and Toe Of Frog, Wool Of Bat, and Tongue Of Dog, Adder's Fork, and Blind Worm's Sting, Lizard's Leg and Owlet's Wing. For a charm of powerful trouble, Like a hell-broth boil and bubble" Second Witch, Act IV Scene I, William Shakespeare's Macbeth.

Shakespeare was the king of creepy medieval scenes

Shakespeare really knew how to set a scene. Centuries after he wrote Macbeth, this famous quote still evokes spooky images of three haggard, old witches, dumping the contents of curious little bottles and jars into a bubbling cauldron, as they chant, screech and hiss incantations over it. This scene probably wouldn't have made such a long lasting impression, if Shakespeare had listed the cauldron's herbal ingredients by their common and less grotesque names. "Mustard seed, and buttercup buds, moss and houndstongue...." certainly doesn't have the same poetic ring to it, as "eye of newt, and toe of frog...". To paraphrase another famous Shakespeare quote, "That which we call eye of newt, by any other name would not sound as creepy."

Historical common names were descriptive

Though, Shakespeare was a master of manipulating words, he doesn't get credit for the macabre sounding ingredients in Macbeth's witches' brew. In fact, as long as mankind has been using plants for food and medicine, we have given them interesting folk names. Throughout history, commonly used plants and herbs have been given different names based on certain attributes of the plant, it's growth habits or even specific reasons it was used for. Common dandelion has been called bitterwort, for it's strong and bitter taste, blowball and puffball because of it's seeding habits, lion's tooth for it's deeply serrated foliage and piss-in-the-bed because of it's diuretic properties. Depending on where you live, you may call Glechoma hederacea creeping charlie or ground ivy; it's also gone by gill over the ground, runaway robin, and lizzie run up the hedge because of it's aggressive runners, cat's foot for the shape of it's leaves, alehoof because it was commonly used in the making of beer and ale, and field balm because it has been used for as a general heal-all herb for balms, salves and teas for thousands of years.

Plant names have many sources and meanings

In present times, plant names can be confusing. Each plant can have dozens of names, common and folk names change by region and culture, even botanical Latin names sometimes change. Yet for thousands of years people have handed down plant folklore, herbal remedies and growing tips, that are still sworn by today. In present times, however, we have countless field guides, plant almanacs, internet databases, social media groups and even plant identification apps to help us identify, grow and use plants. In Shakespeare's time herbal names, remedies and tips were rarely written down, instead they were passed down through families, or from herbalists to their students. Among some groups or families, these herbal names, uses and growing tips were deeply guarded secrets.

What was misunderstood was usually labeled witchvcraft in Shakespeare's day

Witches were specifically careful to guard their herbal secrets. They came up with odd and grisly sounding folk names for the plants they regularly used, like eye of newt for mustard seed or wool of bat for moss. Many historians believe that witches used these gruesome sounding names so that their spells and herbal remedies could not be easily copied. Back in Shakespearean times, those who were labeled as witches were usually herbalist, midwives and healers; their livelihood often depended on their knowledge of herbs and their uses. Therefore they created secret code names for the plants they used.

In some cases certain body parts were used as code for the part of the plant used in a spell or herbal remedy. For example, "eye of..." would usually refer to a round shaped blossom or seed of a specific plant; as in eye of newt, which is simply mustard seed. In some cases, an animal name was used in place of a plant name, just like the "newt" would represent mustard plant in eye of newt. Below I've listed some of the common body parts in witchy plant names and their meaning, as well as commonly used animal code names.


Eye- Blossom or Seed

Heart- Bud or Seed

Beak, Bill or Nose- Seed, Bud or Bloom

Tongue or Teeth- Petal or Leaf

Head- Blossom

Tail- Stem

Hair- Dried Herbs or Stringy Parts Of Herbs

Privates, Genitals Or Semen- Seeds Or Sap

Blood- Sap

Guts- Roots or Stalk

Paw, Foot, Leg, Wing or Toe- Leaves


Toad- Sage

Cat- Catmint

Dog- Grasses, Specifically Couchgrass

Frog- Cinquefoil

Eagle- Wild Garlic

Blue Jay- Laurel

Hawk- Hawkweed

Lamb-Wild Lettuce

Nightengale- Hops

Rat- Valerian

Weasel- Rue

Woodpecker- Peony

Secret codes among witches and herbalists

There are many other animal/plant associations, and even associations to gods and mythological beings, that were used as plant code names. Like folk names, witchy plant names would have changed by region and era. By combining a body part and an animal from simple lists like these as a code, a witch or herbalist could keep the ingredients of their spell or remedy secret. For example a witch who wanted to sell her herbs might list the ingredients of a tea for insomnia as rat guts and blood of lamb, instead of just valerian root and wild lettuce sap. This would not only prevent the customer from just growing their own valerian (which is actually heliotrope) and wild lettuce, but it also had a much more official witchy sound. Even though these names were crude and sometimes vile, they made the healer sound more legit and gave the tired consumer confidence that they finally found the one magical cure.

Some of these names are still in use today

These days, there are many almanacs of magical herbs and herbal grimmoires available online or at bookstores, that list out Witch Herb/Plant names and even details their uses. Just for fun, I will leave you with a list of some of my favorite witchy plant names.

Ass' Ear- Comfrey

Bat's Wing- Holly Leaves

Beard Of Monk- Chicory

Bear's Foot- Lady's Mantle

Bird's Eye- Germander or Speedwell

Blind Eyes- Poppy

Blood From A Head- Lupine

Blood Of Ares- Purslane

Blood Of Hestia- Chamomile

Bloody Fingers- Foxglove

Calf's Snout- Snapdragon

Cat's Foot- Ground Ivy

Crow's Foot- Wood Anemone

Devil's Ear- Jack In The Pulpit

Devil's Plaything- Yarrow

Dew Of The Sea- Rosemary

Dog's Mouth- Snapdragon

Dragon's Teeth- Vervain

Elf Leaf- Lavender

Englishman's Foot- Common Plaintain

Fairy Eggs- Nutmeg

Flower Of Death- Vinca

Goose Tongue- Lemon Balm

Graveyard Dust- Mullein

Hawk's Heart- Wormwood

Juno's Tears- Vervain

Jupiter's Beard- Sempervivums

Lion's Foot- Lady's Mantle

Little Faces- Viola

Man's Bile- Turnip Sap

Mortification Root- Rose Of Sharon

Nose Of Turtle- Turtlehead, Chelone

Nosebleed- Yarrow

Our Lady's Tears- Lily Of The Valley

Old Man's Flannel- Mullein

Ram's Head- Valerian

Scale Of Dragon- Tarragon

Semen Of Ares- White Clover

Semen Of Hermes- Dill

Serpent's Tongue- Dog's Tooth Violet

Sparrow's Tongue- Knotweed

Tree Of Doom- Elder

Unicorn Root- Boneset

Weasel Snout- Yellow Archangel

Wool Of Bat- Moss