I love a good summer peach. Or peach cobbler. Or homemade peach ice cream. And I can’t tell you how much I miss my mother’s homemade brandied peaches (which were amazing over some hand-churned vanilla). If you live in North America, it’s likely you’ve encountered peaches everywhere from grocery stores to roadside stands to neighbors’ backyards. They’re ubiquitous, which also means they’ve been a major player in the foodways of America.
Today I’m going to briefly look at the peach from another folkloric perspective, focusing on its relevance in magical lore as opposed to its purely culinary uses (though I imagine the two are not ever to be completely disentangled from one another).
The flesh of the peach is frequently regarded as a nearly sacred food in its homeland of China, where it is thought to aid immortality. The lore of the peach is extensive there, with every part of the tree and fruit making an appearance. Peach pits are worn as amulets to ward off demons, while blossoms are used to enhance love, luck, & beauty. Peaches are left in family shrines, and feature prominently in the literature and art of China. You can read a good deal more about the role of the peach in Chinese lore here and here.
Peaches were highly valued in places like the Appalachian Mountains, too. According to the third Foxfire book, one of the most common varieties was the Indian peach, a shrubby variety with small, firm peaches:
“Indian peaches are small trees, spreading with scraggly branches, said to be descendants of those trees planted by the Cherokees around their villages…The fruit of the Indian peach is white with a rosy cheek, white-meated with a red heart…All have a most delicious flavor, raw or cooked. Peaches are rich in iron, and peach leaf tea was a medicine for bladder troubles or used as a sedative” (Foxfire 3 303)
In North American folklore, all parts of the peach have their value as well. In Folk Medicine in Southern Appalachia, one of the author’s informants says this of the peach tree: “The peach tree was justifiably described by herbalist Tommie Bass of northern Alabama as ‘a drugstore on its own’ in recognition of its many medicinal uses” (Cavender 64-5). Below you’ll see a sampling of the many different magical and/or medicinal uses of the peach and its parts:
- “A baby that refuses to come can be brought at once and the labor pains will stop, if the woman drinks tea made from bark scraped downwards off a young peach tree.” (Hyatt #2972) Hyatt also states in several other places that peach branches were used to help bring a baby into the world by magical means.
- “Peach tree root or bark was also commonly used [to treat diarrhea]” (Cavender 88)
- Peach wood can be used in a magical cure for warts by cutting as many notches in a peach branch as one has warts (Thomas #1493) (see also “Leaves”)
- Peach wood is one of the reputed choices for making dowsing forks, according to many sources (Thomas #105; Brunvand 432, Steiner 271, Randolph 83)
- Ozark lore specifies that peach bark scraped upward prevents vomiting and/or diarrhea, but scraped downward it is a strong emetic (Randolph 95)
- “A mess of peach roots, ground up and mixed with lard, is said to cure the seven-year itch” (Randolph 109)
- A piece of Kentucky lore states that twinned peaches found together indicate that you will be married soon (Thomas #593)
- Eating a peach pecked by a bird is said to lead to poisoning (Steiner 267)
- John George Hohman mentions the use of “peach-stones” as a cure for “gravel” (kidney stones). He attests to it especially because it cured him of his own gravel (Long-Lost Friend #84)
- Hohman attests that peach pits can also be taken to remedy drunkenness (#185)
- The seeds reputedly can help stimulate hair growth in some people (Todd 55)
- Vance Randolph describes an Ozark love charm consisting of a carved peach stone filled with “some pinkish, soap-like material” which he could not identify (Randolph 166)
- Both Randolph and Newbell Niles Puckett mention the peach-pit charm as a powerful one, akin to the lucky rabbit’s foot charm (Puckett 437)
- Peach leaves were thought to be a Colonial-era cure for worms (Black 199)
- Cat Yronwode mentions using dried peach leaves in wisdom oil blends to help students focus on studies (HHRM 143)
- Kentucky lore says that rubbing warts with peach-leaves, then burying them will remove warts (Thomas #1492)
- The leaves were frequently made into a poultice, which could be used to treat headaches, bruises, and “pumpknots (bumps caused by a blow or knock to the head)” (Cavender 98, 109)
- One of the Foxfire informants recommended a peach leave poultice mixed with salt and cornmeal to treat an abscessed tooth (Foxfire 9 70).
- Herbalist Jude C. Todd recommends the use of peach leaves as a part of a dandruff treatment (Todd 53)
- Hohman says that “The flowers of the peach-tree, prepared like salad, opens the bowels, and is of use in the dropsy” (Long-Lost Friend #185)
- Hohman also recommends the use of the flowers as a cure for worms and constipation (#185)
- Girls in the Ozarks pierce their ears when peaches are in bloom, believing that piercing them any other time will lead to infection (Randolph 164)
Vance Randolph has a great bit of lore regarding the planting of peaches as well:
“In planting peach trees, it is always well to bury old shoes or boots near the roots. Not far from Little Rock, Arkansas, I have known farmers to drive into town and search the refuse piles for old shoes to be buried in peach orchards. The older and more decayed the leather, the better it works as fertilizer” (Randolph 39)
From my own perspective, I really like the dowsing power of the peach, but I also have a great fondness for the carved peach pit charms. They seem like they would be beautiful and incognito ways of carrying natural amulets about on one’s person. I can also easily see using the flesh of a peach like the flesh of an apple, carving things into it before eating to absorb those qualities. The peachy pulp, which bears such a strong resemblance in so many ways to human flesh, also suggests a use as a makeshift dolly. When the “heart” of the peach, its stone, is considered, this is likely a very apt application of magic to the rosy-golden fruit.
I thought I’d finish up today with something non-magical, but which certainly has an enchanting power: brandied peaches like my mother used to make (I sadly do not have her exact recipe anymore, so the one I’m sharing is adapted from the excellent Putting Food By, by Greene, Herzberg, & Vaughan). We used to have a spoonful of these over ice cream after dinner sometimes, and they were simply otherworldly. They’re not as sweet as you might think, but that’s part of their charm. Plus, you can’t go wrong with a little booze in your dessert. I hope you enjoy!
Peaches (1 lb.)
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
Whole cloves (optional)
Whole cinnamon sticks (optional)
Clean & dry your one-pint canning jars. Score skin of peaches, then blanch them in boiling water and dunk them into an ice bath. Slip the skins off and slice the peaches into halves and quarters (removing stones).
Make a simple syrup by boiling the cup of sugar with the water. Cook the peaches in the sugar syrup for about 5 minutes, then transfer peaches into individual jars. To each jar add 1-3 cloves (optional), 1 cinnamon stick (optional), and 2-3 tablespoons of brandy. Seal jars and process in a hot water bath for about 20-25 minutes, then carefully remove the jars and allow them to seal.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at peaches. If you have any other ideas about using peaches in magic, please leave them in here or drop us a line.
Thanks for reading!