The Everyday Lore Project

9 June 2020 – St Columba’s Day

9 June 2020 – St Columba’s Day

Today I’ve been clamping a St John’s Wort flower to my armpit. It’s St Columba’s Day and it’s said, along with chastising the Loch Ness Monster and smiting pervs with angels, that he used to secrete a St John’s Wort flower in his armpit. St John’s Wort is a traditional remedy for depression, had a reputation for healing battle wounds, and more recently has been said to help with anything from sciatica to stomach ulcers. However I, like St Columba before me, was using it to ward off evil.

If ever you want to know what an armpit cilice feels like, try shoving a dried frond of St John’s Wort up there. I’m sure St Columba used fresh, but unfortunately, I didn’t have that luxury. To begin with I used about a two inch twig and inserted it horizontally along the crease. Needless to say it was very scratchy and necessitated me keeping my left elbow tucked in so that it didn’t fall out. All a bit reminiscent of how, when I was sixteen, I used to smuggle contraband into midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

But after a while it stopped feeling uncomfortable. I assumed sweat had softened the wort into submission, only to find it had fallen out somewhere. Subsequently the next spike, I sort of angled half in and half out of my armpit. That fell out too. So in the end, I found a long sprig and shoved it in the side of my bra, with the flowers forced up into my pit. Perfect, in a highly irritating kind of way. 

In total I’ve been pressing flowers and smelling of herbal tea for about eight hours. As I wasn’t expecting a supernatural attack today, I’m not entirely sure how successful the whole exercise was. I can confirm that nothing untoward happened either, so I’m taking that as a win.

But I can definitely say that should I repeat this one, I would make an extra effort to find a fresh flower. And next time I might just strew it around the house rather than keep having to fish bits out of my bra. But until then, I shall use this opportunity to tie the remainder in a bunch and hang it from a window as it’s also said to deter lightning. Well, waste not want not. 


Cooper, Q. and Sullivan, P. (1994) Maypoles, Martyrs & Mayhem: 366 Days of British Myths, Customs & Eccentricities, London, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc

Mabey, R. (consultant ed.) (1988) The Complete New Herbal, London, Elm Tree Books

Vickery, R. (2019) Vickery’s Folk Flora, An A-Z of the Folklore and Uses of British and Irish Plants, London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson

Published by Liza Frank

Author of My Celebrity Boyfriend. Obsessed with hula hooping, sons of preachermen and fresh dates, sometimes all at the same time. Curator of Folklore Agony and The Everyday Lore Project.

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