Darkest Nights of the Year: The Season of the Apple
Updated: Nov 20, 2021
Samhain altar with various apple varieties, apple half candle holders, seeds, and wooden statue of the goddess, Idunn.
As the end of October approaches we are firmly in the time of the autumn harvest. Silver wisps still cling to the milkweed, the goldenrod nods its heavy head now spent. The earth tucks in and we ourselves draw inward into the coziness of our darkening nights. Now is the time to meditate on all which has passed during the year, and the stillness of winter to come with all its dreaming and waiting for rebirth.
Though the time of the apple harvest is coming to an end, we are still inundated with a bounty of fruit ready to be stored and preserved for the long cold winter ahead. The story of the apple is steeped in lore and mythology, and is included in the rituals of yore and traditions still held dear today in these darker months. The apple and her seed, at once the fruit of life and the fruit of death in legends and fairytales, is yet a simply delicious thing to behold.
The Apple in Myth and Marriage to the Divine Feminine
As we feel the gentle spinning of the Wheel of the Year, may our intuition be sparked by the thinning of the veil. As Samhain approaches, The Witches' New Year, the veil lifts and we are reminded of the parting mist beckoning the mortal to step onto the shores of Avalon, Isle of Apples, the Western Land, island of immortality, Island of the Dead.
The Norse goddess Idunn, wife of Bragi, was keeper of the western garden and lady of rejuvenation. As the sun sets in the west, this direction was associated with the end of life. Idunn was the keeper of the fruit of the apple tree which she fed to the gods so they obtained and kept their immortality. (Walker 49)
The many Hesperides, the daughters of Evening and darkening things in Greek mythology, tended an orchard of golden apples, singing and dancing with their golden hair and white arms like branches. It was from this orchard that Hercules was tasked with stealing the fruit, and the orchard from which the goddess Eris plucked the Apple of Discord, which turned to be a catalyst for the beginning of the Trojan War.
A connection to the apple is an attribute of many goddesses: Pomona, Aphrodite, Hera, Demeter, Shakti, Hecate. (Walker 50) Apples symbolize wisdom (so give one to your teacher), abundance, fertility and the continuation of life, the sweetness of hope at Rosh Hashanah, as well as a darker side. An unfortunate confusion with the Latin word malus, which meant both "apple" and "evil," contributed to the Christian belief that the apple was the original Forbidden Fruit in the Garden of Eden, though no evidence shows that it was indeed the apple that tempted Eve; however, for this reason the apple has a storied history, where the early pagan religions revered it only bringing upon it more mistrust from Christianity. From this mistrust comes fairytales of evil queens poisoning princesses with enchanted apples.
Timeline of the Apple
Apples trees have provided humanity with food, wood, and reverence since time immemorial.
* ~750,000 years ago: early Paleolithic food gatherers in (modern) Kazakhstan, central Asia, discovered sour crab apples growing wild in the forest.
* ~8,000 years ago: Neolithic farmers in (modern) Asia cultivated wild apples.
* c. 1300 BC: Egyptians began planting orchards along the Nile Delta.
* c. 800 BC: Ancient Greeks learned grafting techniques.
* c. 200 BC: Ancient Romans planted apple orchards in Britain.
* 1470 ACE: Bartholomeus Anglicus includes a chapter on the apple in one of the first printed Encyclopedias of botanicals. (Grieves 44)
* 1500s-1600s: Spaniards brought apples to Mexico and South America. Before this only crab apple varieties existed in North America.
* 1774- Jonathan Chapman, the pioneer nurseryman known as the folk hero Johnny Appleseed who brought cultivated apple trees to parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, West Virginia, and Ontario, was born in Leominster MA.
* 1900s - Wassailing popular in the United States until it fell into disregard for a time. (Matthews 194)
* 1960s - resurgence of Wassailing, brought back from Somerset UK to Washington, USA. (Matthews 194)
* Today: more than 300 apple varieties are grown in the US alone. (Castleman 68) Maede Grieves claimed a total of 2000 apple varieties are cultivated today. (Grieves 43)
(Source below, unless otherwise cited)
Map of Apple Tree Spread through Human Cultivation
Identification and Cultivation
Apple trees grow up to 30-40 feet tall, while many varieties remain small and resemble shrubs. They tend to have scaly grey bark, those some trees have smoother bark.
Leaves are 2 to 3.5 inches long, alternate, oval shaped with a point, and serrated margins. Undersides may have a faint fuzziness to them.
Flowers are white to pink, fragrant, with five petals less than 1.5 inches in diameter.
Some believe the scent can ease asthma.
Wild apples and store bought apples are similar, though tend to be smaller, misshapen, and are prone to insect blemishes as they are unsprayed. Colors vary from green to yellow and red. When cut in half horizontally they will have 5 seeds displayed in a pentacle. Similar fruits from the same family, like cherry or hawthorn, do not have this pentacle. Apple trees do not have thorns while hawthorns do.
Apples ripen and are ready to harvest in mid-summer through fall. Apples are best picked straight from the tree as they are less likely to be insect- or animal-bitten.
Apple trees do not grow true to seed. In a conversation with Christie Higginsbottom at the Old Sturbridge Village herb garden, Higginsbottom explained that seeds are like children, each seed having different genes. Blossoms must be fertilized by a different parent type tree to avoid inbreeding. To ensure a particular apple variety a branch is grafted for propagation to maintain the same type of apples. Otherwise you get “chance seedlings” from seeds.
Many apple breeds were named after the orchard of the man (or person) from where they first grew, whereupon farmers would take the wood from the parent tree and graft it to another tree. This type of wood was called scion wood.
In the time of the inhabitants of Old Sturbridge Village in MA (roughly 1830s) seedlings were grown from pulp of cider making leftovers. Strong seedlings were identify and allowed to grow while others were weeded out. The top of the strong seedlings were cut and scion wood of a similar width as the seedling taken from adult trees were grafted on to the strong seedling root stock. Alternatively, scion wood may be grafted on to an existing tree. In this way different varieties of apples could be grafted on to the same tree, even as many as 6 or 7 so they can cross pollinate, giving one tree to bear a bounty of apple varieties.(Higginsbottom 10/7/21)
Apple trees are fond of human companionship, and flourish when cared for and pruned well. (Hopman 89)
A note on Crab Apple: to identify, they are similar to apples but much smaller, much more sour, and hang in clusters. Crab apples are higher in pectin and make excellent jellies and cider. (Meredith 82)
To be considered a Crab Apple, the mature fruit would be less than 2 inches in diameter. The tree itself is also smaller, between 15 and 25 feet tall. (Hopman 88)
The apple tree was honored by Indigenous people of the Americas for its dependability on providing food, shelter, and medicine for both humans and animals. Because it is not so tall as to shade the forest canopy so other trees and growing things can still receive light, the apple tree is seen as giving without taking in return. (Hopman 88)
The Apple in Ritual
The apple and its blossom were and are still used in rituals, for spell work, and for the purpose of divination.
The apple was sacred to the goddess Diana in Greece (attributed to Venus in Rome) and was used ritually on her feast day, August 13th. (Cunningham 35) A branch with apples still clinging to it held particular importance, and the Silver Bough was a symbol of immortality, being a branch including ripe fruit, buds, and blossoms. (Cunningham 36)
Apples were used in multiple ways in the art of divination, especially connected when love and marriage were concerned. According to Cunningham, an apple may be cut in half with one half given to the one you fancy and the other half kept for yourself. If the apple is eaten by your hopeful love, then they will love you in turn. Additionally, for divination an apple could be cut in half horizontally to expose the seeds. If the number of seeds are even then marriage is in your future. Uneven seeds show no marriage in the near future, while cut through seeds signal widowhood. Dried apples, apple twigs, bark, or dried petals can be placed in love sachets to use as talismans. (Cunningham 36) Another variation on this form of divination told of other life events besides love and marriage. Once cut in half, if three seeds were shown then inheritance or wealth was imminent, while four signaled travel, five seeds for good health or sea voyage, six seeds for fame or wisdom, and seven seeds would indicate a wish to be granted. (2 Rajchel 37)
Apples enjoyed a prominent roll in Halloween or Samhain and, along with nuts, held the place that candy does in our traditions of today. In the UK and the US various games included apples, including apple dunking or bobbing for apples. Traditionally, the first female to successfully retrieve an apple from the tub of water with her teeth was said to be the first to marry. In Snap Apple, a game which dated back to the times of the Druids, an apple was tied to a rope and hung from the rafters, with the goal of the players to snag the apple with only their teeth. (Rajchel 2, 36)
To ascertain your future spouse, it was popular to peel the apple in one long ribbon and toss the ribbon over the shoulder. Whatever letters are read in the arrangement of the peel on the ground will point to the name of your future spouse. (2 Rajchel 37)
In Tasseomancy, or the reading of tea leaves to predict the future, the symbol of the apple foretold of a long life or a gain by commerce. The apple tree symbolized a change for the better. (Highland Seer 21)
The English tradition of Wassailing, meaning “good health,” found the wassailers drinking a hard spiced cider punch in a large silver, pewter, or applewood (or other wood) bowl or goblet bedecked in ribbons and pouring libations of the drink to the fruit trees in orchards. Wassailers sang and took part in merry revelry, and their toasts sought to drive evil away and appease benevolent tree spirits to ensure a good harvest of fruit for the next year.
(Pesznecker 111) The time when wassailing took place changed through time to time, often times in December but sometimes in the middle of January. Today wassailing is associated with Christmas and Yuletide.
The popular 18th century traditional carol told of this in the Gloucestershire Wassail:
"Wassail, wassail all over the town
Our toast it is white and our ale it is brown
Our bowl it is made of the white maple tree
With the wassailing bowl we’ll drink to thee"
Apple cider was seen as a suitable substitute in recipes that called for blood (Cummingham 37) or in ritual fertilization where sacrificial blood may have been used. (Hopman 88)
An apple a day surely keeps the doctor away. Wild apples may be more tart than cultivated varieties. Sour apples are higher in pectin than sweet, so they are better suited for jelly making on their own or to mix with lower-pectin fruit. (Meredith 36)
Apples are high in vitamins C, B, B2, and E, fiber, carbohydrates, and minerals such as potassium, iron, and magnesium. (Hopman 89)
Their peels contain many phytonutrients. Crab apples are smaller, more bitter and astringent and less palatable, but are more nutrient dense, often containing much greater amounts of phytonutrients. (de la Foret 220)
Apples are also rich is multiple types of phosphates like iron phosphate which is an oxygen carrier, potassium phosphate which is a muscle builder, and sodium phosphate which is an alkaline solvent and stabilizer. (Hopman 89)
According to Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179 A.C.E.), raw apples are best eaten by healthy people, while those who are weak or recovering from illness should avoid them and opt for the cooked or dried fruit. Apples beginning to soften with age are apparently suitable for people of all health statuses. (von Bingen 106) Maude Grieves, however, says that raw apples are not only perfectly suited for those with weak digestion, but that the sugars in them are readily absorbed into the blood stream to provide quick energy, with the whole apple eaten being digested in only 85 minutes. (Grieves 46)
In Ancient Rome, a popular saying was ab ovo usque ad mala, "from the egg all the way to the apple," where the meal was begun with eggs and ended with an apple. May we all remember to keep apples in our diets and end our meals in the Roman way for good health.
Medicinal Uses and Formulae
(Disclaimer: the information in this section is taken from other sources and all claims are not my own. This article was written for academic purposes and is not meant for the purpose of diagnosing or treating illness/disease, or to take the place of medical care.)
Botanical name: malus species (30-55), malus sylvestris or Pyrus malus (Castelman 66)
Parts Used: fruit, twigs, bark, leaves
Energetics: fruit: cooling, moistening; twigs/bark/leaves: cooling, drying
Tastes: from sweet to sour or tart
Properties: astringent, digestive, nutritive
Uses: constipation (fruit, especially the peel), diarrhea (twigs/bark), food, tighten and tone tissues.
Preparations: apple cider vinegar, fermented alcohol, food, tincture, wash
(de le Foret 219)
Harvesting: fruit: in the fall; twigs and leaves: anytime, but best medicine from new growth in the spring (de la Foret 223)
Warnings: do not eat apple seeds as they contain cyanogenic glycosides which can be synthesized into cyanide in the digestive system. Hydrocyanic acid is found in small amounts in the leaves, but does not pose a problem if used in moderation. (de la Foret 224)
Decoction of bark: 1 to 4 fluid ounces, 3 times daily (de la Foret 224)
Tincture of bark: 1:2, 40% alcohol, 5 to 15 drops, 3 to 5 times daily (de la Foret 224)
Infusion: 2 teaspoons dried peel in 1 cup water to ease rheumatism (Hopman 90)
The decoction of the bark may be used for fever. (Grieves 46)
Apple sauce is effective when given to children (or adults) after digestive upset as it is easy to digest, or for constipation. If diarrhea is present then add ground cinnamon (de la Foret 221)
To replenish intestinal flora after a course of antibiotics, one can leave apple sauce out overnight before eating. (Hopman 89)
Malic and Tartaric acids in apples may benefit those who are sedentary and prone to liver problems, gout, and indigestion. These acids make apples more digestible than other foods, and can aid in digestion of these other foods. The practice of eating apple sauce along side pork or a slice of apple pie with cheese illustrate the digestive benefits of the fruit discovered out of practice before the science was available to back us this practice. (Grieves 46)
Unsweetened apple juice can benefit a sour stomach. (Grieves 46) Chewing a small amount of peel may also relieve heartburn, as well as a sip of apple cider vinegar. (Hopman 90) In addition to digestive benefits, countries were unsweetened cider was drunk by much of the population, the instance of kidney stones was greatly reduced. (Grieves 46)
For minor wound care, apply crushed apple leaves to the affected area until you can property clean it. (Castleman 67)
A poultice may be made from cooked and mushed apples for eye complains and given for sore throats. (Grieves 47)
Eating apples, especially firm ones, helps clean the teeth and gums. (Hopman 90)
A diet including apples may help prevent the instance of cancer, heart disease, and stroke. (Castleman 66) High fiber helps reduce the risk of colon and other cancers, while the pectin within apple fiber may aid in eliminating cholesterol before it can be absorbed by the colon. Apple pectin has also been shown in some European studies to aid in heavy metal elimination, such as lead and mercury. (Castelman 67)
A face and hair rinse made from 1 part apple cider vinegar to 1 part water can help restore the skin's pH. This is both good for hair and acne. Substitute white vinegar for blond hair (Hopman 91)
Bach Flower Remedy
Flower Remedy of Crab Apple is used for Despondency or Despair. It is a remedy of cleansing that which the mind fixates upon and causes such despair. Also used to purify wounds from which the patient believes a poison has entered and must be drawn out. (Bach 59)
Also used as a Flower Remedy for various moods, a selection of such are listed below. Main moods distilled are: disgust, shame, feelings of uncleanliness, obsessiveness with detail, and avoidance due to these things.
Agitated (with detail) (Bach, 77)
Ailments (obsession with, feelings of unclean due to) (Bach, 77)
Belonging (feeling unwanted) (Bach, 82)
Blame (self) (Bach, 83)
Cleanser (Bach, 87)
Compulsive (habits, eating) (Bach, 88)
Contamination (Bach, 89)
Critical (of self) (Bach, 91)
Despondency (feelings of uncleanliness/unworthiness) (Bach, 94)
Embrassement (Bach, 99)
Fixation (with self, with details, with cleanliness) (Bach, 104)
Grief (with self-condemnation and disgust) (Bach, 107)
Hygiene (obsession with) (Bach, 111)
Hypochondria (Bach, 111)
Indulgence (in food, then feels disgusted) (Bach, 114)
Meticulous (obsession with details) (Bach, 124)
Nauseous (general feeling of) (Bach, 126)
Obesity (disgusted by (Bach, 127)
Obsessive (over details) (Bach, 128)
Past (regrets) (Bach, 131)
Phobias (contamination, looks) (Bach, 133)
Reclusive (due to fear of contamination of outside) (Bach, 139)
Rejection (self-blame) (Bach, 140)
Reminders (provokes self-disgust) (Bach, 142)
Sacrifice (self) (Bach, 146)
Satisfaction (lack of) (Bach, 147)
Secretive (due to shame) (Bach, 148)
Self-Dislike (Bach 149)
Shame (Bach, 150)
Symptoms (obsessed with detail) (Bach, 159)
Worthiness (lack of) (Bach, 173)
Apples can be eaten raw, baked with spices and sugar, turned into apple sauce, baked in pies and breads, dried, candied, chopped for salads, turned into apple cider vinegar, apple cider, and even used in soups.
Wild Roasted Apples
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon butter
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon fresh mallow fruit, papery coverings removed if desired
1 tablespoon minces fresh dandelion root
2 medium apples
Preheat oven to 350F.
Gently heat the honey and butter in a small saucepan. Once melted, add the cinnamon and stir well.
Mix the mallow fruits and dandelion root into the honey-butter mixture. Stir until everything is well coated.
Core and cut the apples into 1/4-inch slices. Place the apple slices in an oven-safe pan. Pour the honey-butter mixture over the apples and stir well.
Bake for 30 minutes, stirring halfway through, or until the apples are tender.
(de la Foret 225)
Apple Scrap Vinegar
(To be used for salad dressing, cooking, and immediate use recipes. Not for preservation.)
Organic apples scrap (cores, peels, bruised fruit free of rot/mold)
Sugar (white, coconut, molasses, or honey)
Half-fill a container )glass, ceramic, or non-reactive material) with apple scraps.
Dissolve sugar in chlorine-free water with ratio of 1 tablespoon of sugar per 1 cup water. Pour sugar water over apple scraps to cover apples plus a few inches. Cover with breathable material (cheesecloth, coffee filter, etc.) and secure with a rubber band.
Let the jar sit at room temperature out of direct sunlight for 1 week, vigorously stirring with a non-metal utensil daily to prevent mold. Watch for bubbles to form, for the liquid to turn darker and cloudy, and begin to smell of alcohol signaling fermentation.
Strain out fruit after 1 week. Pour liquid into non-reactive container and loosely cover. Let continue to sit at room temperature out of direct sunlight for 2-4 weeks, preferably in a cupboard. The liquid will begin to take on an acidic smell and taste, and will produce a gelatinous vinegar “mother” mass at the bottom.
Transfer to clean and airtight container for storage, straining the vinegar mother if desired to use to jumpstart another batch of vinegar. Store in a cool, dark place.
(de la Foret 229)
Rosemary Gladstar's Fire Cider
May be taken daily to warm and decongest and, aid digestion. Use in concentrated doses for sore throats, colds, and flus. A good salad dressing, or taking in a shot glass.
1/4 cup grated fresh horseradish root
1/2 cup fresh chopped onions
1/8 cup chopped garlic
1/4 cup freshly grated ginger
Cayenne to taste
Honey to taste
Apple Cider Vinegar; enough to cover all ingredients by an inch or two.
Grate and chop ingredients. Place in glass jar and just cover all ingredients with vinegar. Let sit 4 weeks. Strain. Sweeten to taste with Honey. Take 1 teaspoon every half hour or often as needed.
1 pound sweet apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
Place the apples and vinegar into a large slow cooker. Place lid on top, set on high, and cook for 8 hours. Turn the slow cooker to low and continue cooking 10 hours. After 18 hours, stir in maple syrup, cinnamon, cloves, and allspice. Cook another 4 hours. Scoop into mason jars and refrigerate until ready for use. (1 Rajchel 104)
2 quarts apple cider (hard cider or nonalcoholic)
3 cinnamon sticks
1 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
A grating of nutmeg
Several small apples
A couple of mandarin oranges or tangerines
A small handful of kumquats, raisins, and/or fresh cranberries (optional)
Plain or apple brandy (optional)
Put everything into a kettle and simmer gently until the apples’ skins burst. Sever with a dollop of brandy for those who wish. To simulate the ancient custom of apple wassailing, drink wassail under fruit trees and offer a cheer to good fortune in the coming year. You might even take a mug or two to the neighbors. (Pesznecker 112)
Bavarian Apple Torte
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup Flour
Cream together butter, sugar, and vanilla. Then blend in flour. Press mixture into a greased springform pan with floured fingers so mixtures goes up the sides about 1 inch.
8 ounces cream cheese
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Cream together cream cheese and sugar. Then mix in well egg and vanilla. Spread mixture with spatula onto crust.
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
4-5 cups peeled and sliced apples (mix Granny Smith with sweeter apples like gala, empire, or Macintosh)
1/4 cup sliced almonds
Mix together all topping ingredients excepts for almonds. Pour topping mixture evenly over cream cheese filling, arranging the apple slices aesthetically. Top with almond slices.
Bake in 450F oven for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 400F for another 25 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool completely before taking out of pan.
Recipe from Audrey Walker (author's mother)
Apple Spice Squares
1/2 cup softened butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon allspice
2 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda dissolved in 2/3 cup milk
1 1/2 cups peeled, cored, and chopped apple chunks
Preheat oven to 350 and grease a 9x13 pan
Cream together butter, sugar and eggs.
Add in vanilla. Sift in flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cocoa powder. Add in milk and baking soda mixture.
Fold in apple chunks.
Bake for 25 minutes.
Recipe from Beverly Galusha (author's grandmother)
Incorporating apples into your daily life can be extremely rewarding. Besides eating them for their tastiness and nutritive value, using them as tools in spell craft and divination, they also connect us to the earth as a beautiful and precious growing thing. We planted several varieties of apple trees as a family one end of summer in our neighborhood so that they would cross pollinate. If you want to try planting chance seedlings from your own store bought or foraged seeds, all you need to do is collect them and dry them for a few days before planting. My family has enjoyed watching the seedlings grows, discovering them again each spring. From the mature trees we planted, it is always a thrill to see the apple blossoms bursting in their delicate pink and white clusters, welcoming buzzing bees, or to come back day after day to watch the fruits slowly swell throughout the months. Unfortunately so do the squirrels and deer, but for each apple lost it is worth knowing that it fed another creature of this good green earth.
Disclaimer: I am not a licensed medical worker. The information in this article is not intended for the purpose of diagnosing, treating, curing, or as a prescription for disease, illness, or injury.
All photos taken by Carolyn Walker.
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