What’s Really In a Witch’s Potion?

October 30, 2018

In countless movies, TV shows, and plays — particularly Shakespeare’s spooky Macbeth — witches are depicted stirring up a cauldron full of a nasty and powerful potion that will make others do who knows what. All the ingredients inevitably come with creepy, witchy-type names…but there’s really not all that weird. Here’s what (fictional) witches are really using when they’re brewing up trouble.  

Eye of newt

A newt is a kind of toad, but witches in movies aren’t really supposed to kill a frog-like creature just to gouge out of one its eyes. Rather, this is an ancient term for mustard seed, which is far less frightening and could even lend the potion a spicy kick. (But still, you shouldn’t eat or drink that potion, because some of these ingredients could make you very sick…or worse.) 

Toe of frog

Another “common” potion ingredient, it’s similar to eye of newt in that it doesn’t really derive from a victimized, pint-sized reptile. Toe of frog is a medieval name for the ordinary buttercup flower.  

Wool of bat

 First of all, good luck catching a bat, those red-eyed, nocturnal rodents of the skies, let alone getting its wool. That’s because bat’s don’t have wool (they aren’t sheep, after all), they have fur. But technically, wool of bat refers to the leaves of a plant far more associated with Christmas than Halloween: holly. 

Tongue of dog

Houndstongue is a velvety-leaved, red-flowering weed found all over Europe and North America. It gets its name because touching the leaves feels at least vaguely like when a dog licks one’s skin. Trade out “hound” for “dog,” and switch the order of two parts of its compound title and houndstongue become “tongue of dog.” The witches are using these weeds, not a pooch’s wagging tongue.  


This isn’t a cute name for a long and bulbous herb or flower — it’s the name of a small snake that people in medieval times thought was venomous. (It’s not, but it’s still kind of creepy.)