Herblore or Wortcunning is often closely associated with Witchcraft in the public imagination and indeed many witches are also experts in using plants for magical and healing purposes- but not all. So I just want to say before we begin, that if you’re not into plants, you can still practice magick without them and you don’t have to be a plant expert to use them effectively in your magick. Witchcraft does not equal herblore and vice versa. As there are plenty of herbalists who do not practice magick, there are lots of magick users who don’t practice herbcraft. However, because we do not practice magick in a vacuum, every magick-user benefits from a basic introduction to the use of plants in magick. If you are interested in learning more, this will be the subject of my next online course.
First, let us define what an herb is. In botany, an herb is a leafy plant, not a woody plant. An herbaceious plant, not a tree or shrub. But in magick, as well in the culinary world, an herb is a useful plant. Garden Sage and rosemary are both technically shrubs, as they get woody as they mature, but for our purposes, they are herbs because they are useful, a chef would agree and so would an aromatherapist and a traditional healer.
10 Ways to Use Plants in Magick
- Use their fragrance Fragrance is used in magick to set the mood and also because it is believed that Gods and spirit beings, who have no need for food, still appreciate an agreeable fragrance. Plant material is used to make incense and some spells and other rituals specify specific incense combinations. Some magic-users make their own incense, but those who do not wish to do so have many options for purchasing quality incense online and in local metaphysical shops. In addition to incense, plants lend their scent to our magic work via essential oils which can be added to dressing oil or dropped into diffusers and sometimes added to candles to release their scent as they burn. Potpourri can also bring fragrance to your altar.
- Fumigation Fumigation is purification by means of smoke. Dried plant material is burned either whole or incorporated into incense and the resulting smoke is wafted through the area to purify it of specific or general unwanted energies. You can use a feather or fan to move the smoke around, or pass an item directly through the smoke. Frankincense, sage, cedar, pine and thyme are good fumigation herbs, though there are many suitable options. Remember when burning herbs that smoke is always toxic to a certain degree and ventilation is important.
- Potions and such The word “potion” refers to a concoction with magical (or seemingly magical) properties. These are often made with herbs but minerals are sometimes also included. Most modern witches mix our potions using herbs with known or reputed physical properties, relying on chemistry as much as magick, but herbs can also be combined according to planetary and elemental correspondences to bring those energies to the body. It is important, of course, to ensure that the herbs used are safe for human consumption. Potions are generally decoctions, infusions or tinctures, though very serious herbalists and alchemists might prepare a much more complicated spagyric elixir.
- Herbal washes Herbal floor washes are popular among Hoodoo practitioners and available in many Hoodoo shops down South. Washing an area with these infusions diluted in water brings the magical energy of the herbs to the space. Many traditions, including Hoodoo, use herbal infusions to wash people and objects to cleanse them of unwanted energies or attract desirable energies.
- Take a bath Like an herbal wash, a nice long soak in an herbal infused bath can bring magic to your very being. You can also make soaps or bath salts scented with herbs or their essential oils for your magical baths. I especially like to use this method for cleansing spells, infusing herbs into oil and mixing the oil with salt to make a salt scrub to rub on my skin, cleansing my body and my aura, then all the junk goes right down the drain.
- Hang them up The use of plants for decoration is pretty common and many magic users like to display herbs around their space to bring in the magical energy of the herbs. These can be done in the form of wreaths, swags, bouquets, pressed herbs in a picture frame or dried herbs in a glass ball.
- Wear them You can wear herbs and flowers in a corsage or a boutonniere, tuck it into your hair or make a wreath to wear around your head to bring the magic of your chosen plants into whatever you are doing.
- Make a talisman Herbs and other objects are often placed in a piece of cloth to carry with you. Some will wear these on a cord around their neck, or just put it in their pocket. You can also keep it in your car or in your desk at work if you need the magic there. Different traditions call these different things, like juju bags, mojo bags, or simply magical sachets.
- Powders Herbs and other materials ground into fine powders are used extensively in Hoodoo. They may be sprinkled where someone is expected to walk or into their shoes or clothing. Herbal powders are also used as candle dressing for candle magic spells.
- Plant them in and around your house A growing plant can bring desirable energy into your environment and protect it from harmful energy. For example, a thorny hedge between you and your grumpy neighbor can help break up any unfriendly energy he sends to you without doing him any harm. I love roses for this. You can read my article Housewarming House plants for some examples of how you can use houseplants inside your home.
Where to Get Your Herbs
Herbs for magick are readily available in retail establishments as well as in your environment, but where you acquire them has a lot to do with your attitude toward them. If you are simply buying herbs because a spell calls for them, but you’re not really into herbs at all, you’ll probably want to acquire them from your local metaphysical shop or an online retailer. Many herbs can be purchased at your local grocery store, and this may be okay with you, or you may be concerned about the energetic environment of the grocery store interfering with your herb’s energetic signature. If you are really into herbs and you are very concerned about maintaining the natural energies of your herbs and ensuring their potency, you may wish to grow them yourself or wild harvest them from your environment.
Growing Magical Herbs
Growing your own herbs for magical use allows you to develop an intimate relationship with your herbs that allows you to use them in a more intuitive way. Many herbs common to spellwork can easily be grown in a garden or a pot. I recommend that if you are new to gardening, you start small with one or two plants that you find particularly useful or interesting either in pots or in a special spot in your garden. Some really easy plants to start common garden sage, which will grow into an attractive shrub if you let it, rosemary, which can’t tolerate extended periods of cold but does well in a pot and thyme which is nigh unkillable once it gets started. Each of these has a long history of healing and magical uses and have their established place in the kitchen as well.
Wild harvesting Magical Herbs
Most herbs grow quite easily in the garden or in a pot in the house, but some prefer a natural environment and are notoriously tricky to domesticate. Wild harvesting may be necessary for these. If you choose to gather herbs from the wild, you must make sure that you do so responsibly. Some herbs are endangered due to habitat loss and some are easily killed by damage inflicted during collection. When you collect wild herbs, do so thoughtfully by following 3 simple rules:
1. Collect legally. Know who owns the land you are collecting on and get permission to collect. Make yourself aware of what plants are protected in the area and do not collect those!
2. Know your plant and harvest it in a way that does minimal damage to the living organism.
3. Leave more plants behind than you walk away with.
Many witches believe it is important to get permission from a plant and/or leave an offering at the time of harvest. These are nice thoughts, but they should be secondary to the more practical considerations I’ve outlined above. It is important to be respectful of the plant spirit and any land spirits involved, but it is much more disrespectful to overharvest and damage wild populations than it is to forget to ask permission or leave an offering.
To ask permission Different witches use different means to ask permission to harvest a plant. Some have a prayer or chant that they use each time and others simply sit and meditate with the plant to connect with its energy. If the energy feels positive, they accept the permission and proceed with the harvest
Leaving offerings or gifts A gift may be well appreciated by the local nature spirits or fairies. Many people leave pretty crystals or food offerings, I have also known people to write poetry on little slips of paper, read it aloud and leave the slip of paper behind. The most important thing to remember here is not to leave anything that could damage the environment. Food offerings are likely to be eaten by the local wildlife and we know, for example, that chocolate isn’t healthy for many non-human animals, so it should be avoided here as should processed foods that can make animals sick. Very small amounts of alcohol are generally safe, but remember that large amounts poured into the ground may kill important microorganisms and damage delicate roots. Salt can also destroy the fertility of the soil and so should be treated with care. Any other items should be limited to those that will safely biodegrade, or benefit the environment. A seed bomb containing seeds of the plant you are harvesting would be perfect, but take care not to drop seeds of invasive species!