Is Eye of Newt a Real Thing?

A witch's cauldron and materials.
In books and on the silver screen, the contents of a witch's brew always sound a bit grotesque. Turns out witches have their own secret code to deter mere mortals from the practice of witchcraft. belchonock/Thinkstock

Both the English major and the frustrated high school student are likely familiar with this passage during the Witches scene from Shakespeare's "Macbeth":

"Fillet of a fenny snake, In the cauldron boil and bake; Eye of newt and toe of frog, Wool of bat and tongue of dog, Adder's fork and blind-worm's sting, Lizard's leg and owlet's wing, For a charm of powerful trouble, Like a hell-broth boil and bubble."

Eye of newt? What kind of crazy concoction is this? Of course, "Macbeth" is a fictional work, but there are certainly people around the world — back then and today — who practice witchcraft. Do they really use these types of things? If so, it sounds like some animal rights activists should get involved — all those newts, stumbling around without eyes.


Worry not, however! Eye of newt is a real thing, but not literally.

All of the ingredients in the witches brew are simply ancient terms for herbs, flowers and plants. Some say witches gave these flora gross and disturbing names to deter other people from practicing witchcraft. Here's the translated plant list of what's really in Shakespeare's cauldron [source: Beale]:

  • Eye of newt - mustard seed
  • Toe of frog - buttercup
  • Wool of bat - holly leaves
  • Tongue of dog - houndstongue
  • Adders fork - adders tongue
  • Blind-worm - okay, a blindworm is a real thing; a tiny snake thought to be venomous

Now you can make a witches brew yourself, if you're so inclined! However, we seriously don't recommend actually ingesting it.

When practicing black magic, mustard seeds (particularly the black seeds) cast a spell of strife, confusion, discord and disruption. Interestingly enough, though, other types of mustard seeds are thought to provide protection against witches. Legend goes that witches are predisposed to counting and picking up things, so if you scatter mustard seeds around your front door, bed or property, the witch will never have time to get to you as she will be busy counting mustard seeds [White, Hand].

Well, it turns out "eye of newt" is simply the seeds for a popular hot dog topping. However, the classic scene from Macbeth just wouldn't be the same if his characters spoke of boiling mustard seeds, buttercups and holly leaves.


Eye of Newt FAQs

What is eye of newt?
Eye of newt is nothing more than mustard seed.
Why do the witches make a potion in Macbeth?
The potion symbolizes the turmoil in Macbeth's soul, and the ingredients, like eye of newt, symbolize the witches' desire to destroy him.
What are the witches brewing in Macbeth?
The witches are brewing a potion that includes all kinds of odd ingredients, including eye of newt and toe of frog, wool of bat and tongue of dog, adder's fork and blind-worm's sting, lizard's leg and howlet's wing.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Beale, Nigel. "Macbeth and what was in the Witches Brew." Literary Tourist. Oct. 2, 2009. (Jan. 10, 2015)
  • Erzulies. "Love Spells, Voodoo Spells, Witchcraft Spells and Herbal Magic!" 2014. (Jan. 10, 2015)
  • Mabillard, Amanda. "Macbeth Glossary." Shakespeare Online. 2010. (Jan. 10, 2015)
  • The Shakespeare Papers. "The Booklets." 2012. (Jan. 10, 2015)
  • Umrigar, Dr. Darius H. MD. "How to Use Herbs, Roots, and Minerals in Magic Spells." Soul's Temple. Nov. 22, 2010. (Jan. 10, 2015)
  • White, Newman Ivey and Hand, Wayland D. "The Frank C. Brown Collection of NC Folklore: Vol. VII: Popular Beliefs and Superstitions from North Carolina, Part 2." Duke University Press. April 29, 1977. (Jan. 10, 2015)