broad-leaved enchanter’s nightshade, sorcerer of Paris, Witch’s Grass, Great Witch Herb, Wood magic herb, Paris nightshade, Herb of St Etienne, St Stephen’s wort
Enchanter’s Nightshade is a Eureasian native perennial member of the evening primrose family (Onagraceae) found in moist woodlands across Europe and has naturalized to much of the Midwest United States. The leaves are opposite, ovate and up to five inches long. The central flower stalk extends at least six inches above the leaves and produces a sparsely populated raceme of distinctive white flowers in late summer which continue to early autumn followed by a small, hairy, seedy fruit. The distinctiveness of the flowers lies in their petal number- there are only two. But they are deeply cleft and may appear to be four. There are also two green sepals and 2 stamens and a hairy, enlarged ovary at the base of the flower. The fruit is burr-like in that it is distributed by sticking to clothing and fur of passersby.
Small Enchanter’s Nightshade Circaea alpina is less common and more particular about living in moist, cool areas. Its leaves are more chordate and indented at the base and the raceme of flowers are clustered near the top of the flower stalk rather than distributed along its length. As its name might suggest, it is also quite a bit smaller than its cousin growing to a height of only about 1 foot tall. This species is listed as endangered in Illinois and Indiana and is a species of special concern in Kentucky and Rhode Island.
Hybrids between the two species can occasionally be found, but these do not produce seeds.
It is important to note that enchanter’s nightshade is a member of the primrose family (Onagraceae), not a member of the nightshade family (Solanaceae).
Plant enchanter’s nightshade in a spot that mimics natural woodland conditions. It likes rich, loamy soil and dappled shade. Mulch well with dead leaves. The seeds should be planted in autumn, or stratified in the freezer for 3-6 weeks before planting. They should be barely covered with soil. This is a good choice for midwinter planting.
Enchanter’s nightshade spreads like crazy, so keep this in mind when deciding where to plant.
History and Folklore
The genus Circaea is named after Circe, an enchantress featured in The Odyssey by Homer. Some say this plant was part of the potion she used to turn Odysseus’s companions into swine. However, she is not the only Homeric hero associated with this herb. The common name Sorcerer of Paris and Paris Nightshade alludes not to the city in France, but to Paris of Troy from The Illiad.
Enchanter’s nightshade is listed as an ingredient in many of the “ancient” herbals and magical compendiums, but berries are often mentioned. Since this plant has sticky burrs, not berries, one can only assume that these texts are referring to a different plant. Likely candidates include bittersweet nightshade Solanum dulcamara which is native to Europe and Asia and a noxious weed common throughout the United States or deadly nightshade aka belladonna Atropa belladonna which has a long history of use in medicine, magick, and cosmetics.
In the language of flowers, enchanter’s nightshade means witchcraft or sorcery.
Particularly it is a useful aid to the Law of Attraction. Use when you are working to create energy to draw like energy into your life. It is also used in spells to balance energies and forces, light/dark, male/female, etc. It also helps in work to find one’s connection with all things, release our potential and find our true will.
The action is very gentle and subtle. It is a wonderful thing to focus upon during meditation.
Although it is not particularly poisonous, enchanter’s nightshade is inedible.