Mythology behind Irish Herbalism

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In medieval Ireland there was a strong belief in myth, legend and the influence of the otherworld.  These ancient people believed that the knowledge of healing herbs was given to them by the Tuatha Dé Danann (The gods of Light or the People of Danu).

Nuada, the king of the Tuatha Dé Danann, lost his right hand in personal combat. No matter how wise, good or strong a man might be, he could not be the king if he was not whole. DianCécht (the God of Medicine) and Creidne (the God of Craftsmen) were summoned to the Hill of Tara (home of kings) to find a solution for this dilemma.

Together they resolved the problem with a silver arm made by Creidne and given movement by DianCécht. This solution lasted many years until one day a young healer, (Miach) and his sister (Airmid) came to Tara. They said that they had come to do a healing on Nuada’s silver arm. These siblings were actually the offspring of DianCécht the God of Healing. Miach took the silver arm off Nuadas arm and placed the withered arm of the king back upon his body, connecting bone to bone, sinew to sinew, and skin to skin.
    For three days it was connected to Nuada’s skin, with Miach, chanting, “Skin to Skin and Skin again!”…  and the skin of the arm re-grew and was as pink as a baby’s skin! Next, Miach placed the arm against Nuada’s side for three days and chanted, “Sinew to Sinew and Muscle anew!”

Miach received great praise for this which made his father rage with jealousy. DianCécht was so angry that he killed his son by piercing his brain and removing it from his body. Airmid was devastated by the loss of her beloved brother and visited his grave every day for a year and a day. She sang songs to communicate with his spirit and every day a miracle occurred and a new herb sprang up on various places on the grave. For a year and a day a new herb grew. Miach’s healing powers were manifesting themselves as individual herbs, each with its own correspondence to the parts of the body and each marking a special cure for its ailments.

On the last day of her vigil, Airmid gathered up all the herbs on her apron each with a special place depending upon its usage and powers. Within the contents of her apron, her brother’s gift would live again, through the healing knowledge and power of the herbs. DianCécht arrived at the grave and found Airmid standing there, apron filled with 365 healing herbs, he scattered its contents in rage!
“This knowledge is not for the world to have!” he shouted. “If Miach’s knowledge is received into the coimgne (common knowledge), then everyone will become a healer and our kind shall surely vanish from the hearts of men and the ways of the Earth forever. The only way to gain the knowledge is if the Holy Spirit teaches them”
After that outburst, he angrily walked away,  assured that the secrets of healing were safely preserved to the healers. Alone and afraid, crying tears for her brother and the fury of her father that had killed him, Airmid could only stare at his back as he departed. She stood there in wonder and sorrow at the ways of gods and men, gazing all the while at the many scattered herbs upon the grave. Airmid remembered the powers of the herbs and she passed this knowledge on to the people.

Read more about herbalism in Ireland