Monday, July 6, 2015

What is "Hush Water"? or "Hash Water"?

Dear Malcolm and Ms. Q,

Ms. Q, one of my readers Malcolm asked me a question that made me whoop with memory so I'm going to post his question here and my longish reply,  I had not heard this term in ages and in doing my "Waters List" had left it out because in a way it was confusing because it has several different types of meanings as well as ritual uses or just plain uses.

Several are perfectly interesting, but the others, unless the laws change would be considered at least in the US and other countries where the main component is banned---Illegal!

So on to the question and the answer-----

Malcolm Campbell July 2, 2015 at 10:27 PM

Another fascinating post. This blog has a wonderful archive which I've referred to often. I see that you will answer questions from readers; I wasn't sure how or where to ask a question, so I'm putting it here even though it doesn't apply to the post. Old books that mention conjure refer to "hush water." Supposedly it was around during the slavery era and supposedly made people patient enough to endure many things. On a sexist note, one source said men bought it and gave it to their wives to keep them quiet. Are you familiar with this water and what it contained?

Thank you.

And Thank You Malcolm for bringing up a memory from the dim fog of my mind.

I have heard of the term "Hush Water",  and whenever I asked my Granny about it she'd give me a very stern look and said that it was not a good thing because sometimes it would be used wrong.

Then when I was in my late teens like 18-19 and going out to parties in the early 1960's, Granny heard about guys "poisoning drinks" or switching drinks, which became prevalent in the 1990's what today we'd call "roofing"  or "roofies" I think that's the term.  Now she knew I had no head for alcohol so she, my Mom AND my Dad warned me to never drink from an open container, never drink from a drink handed to me, and since I could only drink soda at parties, I'd always grab a sealed can or bottle, even though some guys would try and force a drink on me, more than once I'd set is aside or spill it or when they turned their back pour it on the ground (outside) or into an unfortunate plant. 

Although this was generally and abusively available in the 1990's  it's original ingredients was known in South American countries and the West Indies and a few other places as far back as the 1950's and even earlier.  In the first "Creature from the Black Lagoon" movie, released in 1954, the captain of the boat the expedition was on said he had rohypnol (pronounced in the movie "ropinol")  used to catch fish!   So it may have been known during the 1800's and possibly earlier.

I heard my Granny and Mrs. Byrd refer it is as "Hush Water" but for them it wasn't the only "Hush Water"

Here is what I remember about "Hush Water"-----

I can only go by what I was told to me by my Granny and the Ladies of her group, besides what I just mentioned, there were various meanings to the term “Hush Water” and it depended upon where you were from, what it exactly was and what use was it put to.

 From what I remember and what I learned over the years, I consider this item to be too dangerous to use, dangerous to the point of being extremely addictive as well as dangerously lethal  and only provide this information for you edification.

 Mrs. Harcourt was from England but she also traveled as a young woman to Ireland and Scotland, during the early part of the War she went to Scotland with some other women to take to safety young children who were going to be placed in homes for safety away from the bombings.  It was hard for the children to be separated from their parents, in some cases the stories were tragic in that for some their parents didn’t survive the bombings, others were luckier at the end of the war.

While in Scotland Mrs. Harcourt (this was before she was married) found out about a ritual that was done to protect houses from any bombings. Sometimes it was called "Hush Water" but most of the time it was called Unspoken Water.  This was collected either to heal a person or protect a home.

What one had to do was to rise early in the morning or to go at twilight to a bridge and to not speak to anyone either going out or coming home and take with them a vessel to carry this water that would be collected from under a bridge, over which the living persons travel and also the dead are carried to a graveyard, when the water is collected it is taken home and thrown over the house and the vessel in which it was contained was thrown after the water.  This was to protect a home or business.  And the person could not speak until after this ritual was completed.

 The other use was this water was collected the same way and the person collecting the water was to not speak at all and then the water brought in either at dawn or twilight to the house of a sick person, without the bearer’s speaking, either way going to collect the water or returning with it, then the sick person drinks three long sips of the water before anything is spoken. Sometimes the remaining water is thrown over the house, with the vessel following before anyone can speak.

 Mrs. Harcourt had heard that it was very rarely done but in the small town that she was in, when the German’s flew over it was noted that those houses that had the Hush or Unspoken water tossed over the roof was spared the bombings the other houses were not.

From Della who was Italian she told me of a drink that was called “Hush Water” but she said that it was mostly used by Bella who in her younger days was something of a “wild thing”.   

If Bella wanted to go out dancing, she’d tell her husband that she was going to go to Bingo at the Church and then make him a strong drink, now in the early days Bella had in her yard a couple of cannabis plants and opium poppies  growing and she would make an infusion with the heads of cannabis or the opium poppy in grain alcohol or strong whiskey and mixed with honey and serve it to her husband who would occasionally complain of aches and pains.

 He’d always fall asleep in the over stuff chair in the living room, when he was snoring real good she’d go out dancing, and come back hours later, then after changing into her night gown she’d wake him up saying he was so bored he fell asleep while she was talking to him.

Now you have to remember where everyone lived not everyone was interested in what was growing in one’s back yard because there might be a still back there and if someone was good at making home grown whiskey or wine, who was going to turn them in?  Not their neighbors that’s for sure.

But sometimes Bella would use either a form of Laudanum or tincture of Opium instead and it was referred to as ‘Hush Water” as sort of a code word for Laudanum.

But the tables got turned on Bella, her husband got a big promotion and was earning lots more money, so Bella started staying home, but sometimes her husband would make her a strong cup of milky tea.

He knew what the cannabis, opium poppies and Laudanum could do, and he may have suspected that Bella was occasionally giving it to him,  so he’d put a tiny amount in with whiskey and a lot of honey and she’d drowse off reading, then her husband would go and visit a "lady friend" for an hour or two. 

Della (Bella's sister) put Bella wise and Bella was not going to lose her husband and his income to some “shoo-fly”, so Bella would praise her husband saying what a hard worker he is and would make sure he got the Hush Water drink and he’d miss his dates with the other lady.   He’d wake up and Bella would be all cozy to him praising him for working so hard and giving him complements.   He never strayed again.

After that he only got the drink because he’d say his joints were aching and he needed to sleep and she stayed close to him.

But in time Bella’s grown and married kids said the cannabis plant, and the opium poppies had to go or they’d get arrested, times were changing, sad to say.  The bottle of Laudanum was long gone.

Now Mrs. Washington who was from the South, Louisiana in particular, knew of “Hush Water”, her Great-Grandmother told her about it.

Her Great-grandma was a former slave but in 1859, prior to the Civil War,  the Plantation owner had found out that a number of other Southern Slave owners had freed their slaves (many had but not all) and what they would do is lease to their former slaves some land and they’d become part of a co-op so that the former slaves would get for their work a portion of the profit’s from the main crop as well as growing their own crops and selling them in the market place, so they'd also pay the rent on the land that the former owner would lease to them.  It turned out to be very profitable and less stressful for everyone, until Gen. Sherman destroyed everything.  At least according to Mrs. Washington's Great-Grandma.

So her Great-Granny was a freed slave before the Civil War.  The work no matter what for either slave or free person was hard, so they’d drink a concoction made of cannabis or opium poppy tincture or Laudanum made with grain alcohol and sweeten with honey to ease the aches and pains, sometimes it would be mixed with willow bark, from which we would get eventually our modern day aspirin, the honey would take the bitterness out of it.

But because the willow bark sometimes would cause excessive sweating, they had to be sure to drink plenty of plain water as well.  Work would start at sun rise, stop at noon and then everyone rested and not start again until 4 or 5 p.m. until sundown and that’s when folks would eat a late supper.   This was true for the long days and most especially during the heat of late Spring, Summer and early Fall.    Winter and early Spring the work hours would change.

 Now Mrs. Washington also knew of men and women who would give their spouse or boy/girl friend a drink of “Hush Water” usually disguised either as a milky tea with whiskey and honey and it would almost always be made from a tea from boiled cannabis heads with whole milk or the opium poppy that would produce drowsiness.  Or it was Laudanum or tincture of Opium mixed with whiskey and honey.   Any one of those things would work, if you knew the right dose, sometimes too much would be lethal.  

 It wasn’t until William Randolph Hearst (and others), got the government to ban the common hemp plant so common hemp (used to make rope and cheap paper like newspaper)  could not be grown, this increased Hearst Timber investments so that wood pulp was used to make paper and make Hearst richer.  The common hemp plant had little effect that its cannabis cousin did.

This ban also included the type of cannabis plant that was one of the plants used to make “Hush Water”.   But frankly I saw that plant growing in Bella’s back yard and it grew wild, didn’t need anything special to make it grow it was a weed, and it can grow very well on its own,  didn’t need any special watering or excessive watering, or sunlight or anything the thing was a weed, grew like a weed.  So did the opium poppies and they would re-seed themselves besides looking pretty.

Now Mrs. Washington told me that the ancients would do something with the seeds in a steam bath and she told me that there was on conjure person who would have people take a steam bath and then throw onto the hot rocks with the water flowering tops of the cannabis plant, and doing that it would produce visions.

At one gathering that she was at as a very young woman there would be these heated rocks and water and the cannabis flowers or the dried resin of the opium poppy would be thrown onto the rocks creating steam and then people would have visions or find themselves being “ridden” by a spirit.  

She also knew of a spiritist conjure person who would boil the cannabis heads in water, along with lavender and then later take the cooled water to later  be slowly evaporated over flame when conducting spirit rituals and people would come away claiming to have seen a family member or loved one at one of these rituals.

 Among my early college papers in dealing with hallucinogenic drugs I came across this mention and I share it with all of you:

{Beginning around the 4th century, Taoist texts mentioned using cannabis in censers.  It was cited (ca. 570 CE) in the Taoist encyclopedia Wushang Biyao ("Supreme Secret Essentials") that cannabis was added into ritual incense-burners, and suggested the ancient Taoists experimented systematically with "hallucinogenic smokes".

The Yuanshi shangzhen zhongxian ("Records of the Assemblies of the Perfected Immortals"), which is attributed to Ge Hong (283-343), says:

For those who begin practicing the Tao it is not necessary to go into the mountains. … Some with purifying incense and sprinkling and sweeping are also able to call down the Perfected Immortals. The followers of the Lady Wei and of Hsu are of this kind

Lady Wei Huacun (252-334) and Xu Mi (303-376) founded the Taoist Shangqing School. The Shangqing scriptures were supposedly dictated to Yang Xi (330-386 CE) in nightly revelations from immortals, and it was proposed Yang was "aided almost certainly by cannabis".

The Mingyi bielu ("Supplementary Records of Famous Physicians"), written by the Taoist pharmacologist Tao Hongjing (456-536), who also wrote the first commentaries to the Shangqing canon, says, "Hemp-seeds are very little used in medicine, but the magician-technicians (shujia) say that if one consumes them with ginseng it will give one preternatural knowledge of events in the future."

 A 6th-century CE Taoist medical work, the Wuzangjing ("Five Viscera Classic") says, "If you wish to command demonic apparitions to present themselves you should constantly eat the inflorescence of the hemp plant."}

The Greek Histories of Herodotus (ca. 440 BCE) record the early Scythians using cannabis steam baths, much like the spiritius conjure person that Mrs. Washington knew of.

Even in Shakespeare’s time the use of cannabis and the opium poppy for both medicine and magic was well known and could have easily been incorporated into Caribbean cultures to become assimilated into  the Hoodoo Conjure system over time, I am not a scholar into this but it does make sense, like there are pyramids in Egypt and there are pyramids in South America, separated by an ocean but nonetheless they are there.

Now there is another type of “Hush Water” but not really for drinking purposes, but it’s possible it might have been incorporated as a spiritual rite.

 Among the early slaves there were gatherings in places called “Hush Harbors”. African Americans felt most free to sing spirituals accompanied by the ring shout dances when they were away from the gaze of masters and overseers, who often forbade the gatherings. When the slave quarters was far enough away from the residence of the owners, Black people might gather there in one of the cabins, moving to the side the meager furnishings so that a danced circle could form in the center of the room.

The narratives of former slaves mention that a large tin basin was sometimes overturned and raised to the rafters to “catch the sound” and lessen the likelihood that the gathering would be discovered. Or, the basin or barrel might be filled with water and set in the middle of the room or by the door in the belief that it could serve a similar purpose of dampening down the sound.  There by becoming a Hushed place and using water to hush the ceremony.

When slaves had access to their own churches, with moveable benches or pews, the ring shout ceremonies often occurred there, after the formal “sermon” service was completed. But just as often, people gathered in woods bordering the plantations where they lived or in simply constructed “praise houses” or “hush harbors” or sometimes out in the open air, around a fire.

Throughout the diaspora, enslaved people used their homes, wooded and isolated places, and structures they built with the express purpose of sheltering their gatherings, to meet, to dance, to sing and to thus call spirit into their midst.

So it would not have been unusual to use that water to make a drink combined with opium type herbs or cannabis buds to make Hush Water---- I remember that my Granny, and her ladies grew opium poppies, in their front yards, those poppies were outlawed so what the ladies did was save the seeds and instead grow them in their back yards away from prying eyes.

So Hush Water was either made from cannabis, opium poppy resin or Laudanum or tincture of Opium sometimes mixed with willow bark.   At least that is what I knew from Granny and her Ladies.

Hush water made from either the cannabis plant or the opium poppy is very dangerous to drink, larger amounts of poppy seeds may be brewed into a tea, the consumption of which has in some cases led to death by overdose. The risk stems largely from the unpredictable opiate content of the finished tea, although the interaction with other drugs can be a contributing factor.

For example eBay has stopped allowing the sale of opium poppy pods on their auction site. This may be attributed to the death of a Colorado teen, who overdosed on opium tea around that time.

There are many different preparations of poppy tea. Most methods call for the "poppy straw" material (the seedpod and sometimes the stem) only to be used. Most methods call for the straw to be ground into a fine powder. A quick and efficient method is to use a stove-top espresso maker. This results in a fairly concentrated beverage and does not appear to destroy the alkaloids despite involving steam passing through the poppy straw.

There is much debate on the best preparations of poppy tea. Many claim that boiling rapidly is the best, others insist on strictly cold water, or another method is steeping in hot water. Some methods call for citric acid or acetic acid (vinegar) to be used during extraction. The purpose of the addition of citric and/or acetic acid is to lower the pH level of the neutral water (pH7) down to a slightly acidic pH of 6-6.5, which is optimal for morphine extraction, although it is disputed between varying studies.[

When the tea is drunk, its effects begin after about 30 minutes, lasting up to 12 hours. It is intensely bitter and some users add other flavorings to the tea to mask the bitterness. It is wise for the user to be careful with the amount they consume if the tea comes out to be very bitter and very dark. Grapefruit juice and/or cimetidine or hydroxyzine may also inhibit liver enzyme activation, thus increasing the strength and duration of the opiate effects.

Since 2004 there have been a number of deaths from Poppy Tea aka “Hush Water”, in 2004, a fatal overdose of poppy seed tea was reported on a website written by the victim's parents, who wrote that a sample of poppy seed tea was sent for laboratory analysis. This victim is reported to have used 3.5 pounds of poppy seeds in his tea preparation.

On May 19, 2012, a 19-year-old from Nova Scotia died after drinking the tea from a poppy seed pod he purchased on the Internet.

In November 2012, A Tasmanian youth died after drinking tea brewed from seed heads, and a 50-year-old Tasmanian man died in similar circumstances in February 2011.[

A 2013 inquest found that a 27-year-old British man died from the effects of drinking a pint of poppy tea.
As I said in the South a more common type of “Hush Water” was Laudanum, in England and the United States among working people, Laudanum was cheaper to buy than Gin.  

In the 19th century, laudanum was used in many patent medicines to "relieve pain ... to produce sleep ... to allay irritation ... to check excessive secretions ... to support the system ... and as a soporific".

The limited pharmacopoeia of the day meant that opium derivatives were among the most effective of available treatments, so laudanum was widely prescribed for ailments from colds to meningitis to cardiac diseases, in both adults and children. Laudanum was used during the yellow fever epidemic.  And it was also highly addictive.

So “Hush Water” could also have been the code word for Laudanum as it was easy to purchase legally for a long, long time.  And according to Granny, if you knew the right druggist, you could still get it long after it was banned, as a sleeping aid.  But Granny preferred very sweet wine.

As I got older Granny continued to grow the opium poppy, but Bella got rid of her cannabis and poppies in the early 1970’s she hired some young hippy people who were more than happy to carefully dig the plants out of her garden and gently haul the plants away for no fee. 

 As I and my Granny watched them happily take the plants away Granny remarked to me, “They are going to be happy for a long, long time, if it doesn’t kill them.”

That was like saying "My marriage is made in heaven."  Well so is thunder and lighting.

After Granny died, Mom refused to have any of the poppy seeds come over to be planted in her garden, she was worried about the kids who would come over and visit my younger brother and maybe get into trouble with the poppies.

I myself do not grow opium poppies as ornamentals, nor would I even consider growing a cannabis plant if it became legal, I do not believe in using opiates for any kind of use with the exception of aspirin, and any prescribed medication that I would be required to use.

 What were the dosages to make “Hush Water”  I really don’t know, I was not told by anyone, and considering how dangerous opiates can be I wouldn’t even hazard a guess.

Now not too long ago, my kids gave me a book that was some sort of dungeons and dragons thingee, but the role playing was done in the South and involved hoodoo and just going through this book I did come across the mention of "hush water" as a potion to be made by a character.  And I thought to myself "Now where did they get that term?"

However I do recall quiet clearly Mrs. Washington referring to it.  Her grand daughter managed to save her grandma's papers and has been in contact with some very elderly family members down south, she and I continue to be in touch, which is very helpful to the both of us.

 Personally, from what I was told, I do believe that “Hush Water” as drunk by slaves was a concoction of either the cannabis plant or the opium poppy and willow bark as a mild tea (emphasis on mild) to ease any aches and pains or possibly a mixture of Laudanum or tincture of Opium all at that time legal to obtain, and also used by cheating spouses to go out and have a night on the town.

 It does produce harmful cravings within the withdrawal than can take up to a year to overcome.

Personally I consider it extremely dangerous, and not worth making, the risks of lethal overdosing is far too great.

I do provide this information to you for your education, should you or anyone else come across this very antique product mentioned in passing.

Blessing Malcolm and Ms. Q


  1. Thank you so much for this wonderfully detailed answer. I live in the South and have heard to many stories about people using Laudanum for everything from minor aches and pains to major discomforts, that I'm not surprised it might be one form of "hush water." Of course, years ago, you could buy codeine, cocaine drops and paregoric over the counter, so anything that made a person sleepy could easily be concocted into a tea or cocktail and make people sleepy. I'm an author, by the way, so this isn't anything I'm going to make. I enjoy the subject matter. Thanks again.


    1. Thank you Malcolm for prodding my mind, for me its a lot of memories a lot of good and funny and some not so good.

      I didn't think you'd make this stuff, but I always include a warning especially for those learning about these things, since I seem to have a lot of readers of my blog.

      I feel I would be remiss if I didn't include serious cautions especially when dealing with opiates and poisonous herbs.

      If you have any other questions don't hesitate to ask.

      Blessings to you.

  2. Wow,�� I have never heard the term "hush water" befor or even what was its ingredients. But i guess my question is. "Is it similar to what is called "Belladonna" i know that this is the deadly nightshade plant. But is the useage the same?, i have heard of witches useing this as an ointment or such to aid in flying hallucinations or some kind of feel happy ritual im not sure, i cant remember exactly what it was used for but knows it was by witches n in magick/rituals. I think also the same as the hush water can only be given or taken in small quantities,.
    I really found this post very knowledgeable and thank you for including it. I do like reading other posts/comments and archives, i learn mostly this way, as im still to find my path with either wicca or new/old ways pagan and i love to learn ��knowledge is my food ☺thank you and love and light to you, and also hope you get well soon Ms Q x

    1. Thank you Billie Jo,

      I'm feeling much better but it has turned very cold here and I keep asking my niece if it's a spare the air day or not because I want a nice warm fire lit in my fire place.

      In “Hush Water” either a form of opium poppy or even hemp possibly mixed with willow bark into a tea may have been used to help a person do work, I think more so the willow bark since that was the way one got Aspirin for aches and pains. But the opium and hemp helped take off the edge as well.

      To my knowledge Belladonna, because it is so poisonous was never used in “Hush Water” Nor did they want their workers to be having hallucinations either and Belladonna would cause that, and drinking in some form of Belladonna would also cause insanity because of the deadly effects on the brain.

      Belladonna as you said Billie Jo, is extremely poisonous, even handling it can be dangerous especially if you have a cut on your finger or hand and its deadly effects can even be absorbed through the skin especially if you are sweating.

      The berries pose the greatest danger to children because they look attractive and have a somewhat sweet taste. The consumption of two to five berries by a human adult is probably lethal. Consuming even a single leaf can prove fatal to humans.

      Belladonna in very tiny quantities was one small ingredient in the flying ointment. Belladonna has long been used as a power plant by witches, sorcerers and shamans to induce trance states. In the past it was used to facilitate divination, visions and sleep, and was one of the ingredients of the ‘flying ointment’. However the herb is highly poisonous in all its parts and is just as likely to induce death.

      For witches, belladonna is the supposed main ingredient allowing broomsticks to levitate. And perhaps it did, even if only in their hallucinations. Witches were believed to use a mixture of belladonna, opium poppy and other plants, typically poisonous (such as monkshood and poison hemlock), in flying ointment, which they applied to help them fly to gatherings with other witches.

      In the past it was also used to encourage astral protection and to produce visions. But it has been said that those who drink a mixture of it with other herbs to obtain visions will go insane because of its deadly effect on the brain.

      I understand that with old time witchcraft because of its toxic nature, belladonna has been used in many death potions, hexes and curses. It's closely associated with the underworld, and used to consecrate and charge tools used to commune with spirits, or in incenses to attract the dead (never burn belladonna indoors and never directly inhale-- in fact, it's best to skip it and use a safer alternative).

      Today belladonna is little-used in herb or tincture form, both in black or white magic due to its deadly lethal properties.

      The drug Atropine is derived from the plant and is used in various medical treatments. . It is also said that Rabbits, sheep, goats and swine eat the leaves with impunity, and birds often eat the seeds without any apparent effect, but cats and dogs are very susceptible to the poison.

      Belladonna belongs to a large family of plants known as Solanaceae; this includes a lot of our favorite garden veggies -- peppers, tomatoes, eggplants and potatoes – they belong to this family. That is why if I have some potatoes and they start turning green, I throw them away, I don’t even mulch them as they are becoming poisonous.

      I certainly will not have Belladonna in my herbal garden as it is far too dangerous and can contaminate edible plants as well. And since I do have small children and pets visiting me I cannot have the risk of any of them coming to harm.

      It does not hurt to know and understand about this herb as well as its deadly relations like Fox Glove and Monkshood, but unless you have a pharmaceutical degree as well as intensive training in herbology, I would leave these family of plants alone.

      Bright Blessings,
      Ms. Q