Herbs occupy a primary place in wiccan magic. The elder witches used herbal magic extensively. Often these long ago witches were the only recourse for those in their village who were ill, and they used herbs for much of their healing work. Herbs have been used for centuries for both healing and magic, a great deal is known about their actions in both fields. We are primarly interested in their uses for magic here, there are a number of very good sites out there on using herbs for healing. I recommend The Herbal Encyclopedia. It's a beautiful site, and it's huge! Tons of very well researched information on the medical uses of plants.
As with other natural objects herbs are natural repositories for the power of the earth. The nature of each herb is discernable and they have been placed in catagories according to their actions. The following recipes and spells outline some of the uses of herbs in magic. (see also the tables of Herbal Correspondences) Some of these herbs are commonly used in food and you can obtain them from your kitchen or the super market. Others are a bit more esoteric and can only be obtained at an herb shop, by mail order, at an occult supply store or possibly at a well stocked health food co-op. There are a number of on-line herb shops available if you do not have one in your area. Try to obtain your herbs from a reputable source that sells correctly labled, fresh herbs. I realize this is easier said than accomplished, but if there is dust on the package, it isn't a good sign.
It is important to note how the herb is to be used for the intended purpose. Are you to burn it as incense? Scatter it? Put it in an amulet bag and carry it? The tables are separated by how the herb is utilized. If it is not stated, you can feel confident doing what is easiest for you, but if directions are given please follow them. If the herb is listed as an incense that means that you must smoulder it on charcoals specially made for burning incense. These can be obtained at the occult shop, by mail order or via the internet. It is also possible to make your own. A recipe will be given toward the bottom of the page. If the herb is to be put into an amulet bag you can either buy the bags you need or stitch them up yourself. I recommend making them, the sewing involved is simple and the ready made bags are hugely overpriced. Directions will be given for sewing amulet bags toward the bottom of the page. Scattering is rather self explainatory.
Also, there are a number of herbs that are dangerous to ingest. You will note that none of my directions suggest that you ingest any herbal preparations, this intentional. I cannot be responsible for any untoward and unexpected allergic response to an herb that is generally considered safe. Those with allergies or asthma will likely want to avoid incense, however I have asthma and am not particularly bothered by it. Responses to such things are idiosyncratic, you know your body, I don't. Some of the herbs often quoted by inexperienced writers as being used by witches are in fact poisonous, and occasionally deadly. The so-called flying ointments are often trotted out by persons with no actual experience in herbal magic. These recipes are no longer used. There will be none of these ancient curiosities given here.
Some of the herbs are used in the form of essential oils. These are produced by extracting the volatile oils from the plant or it's flowers by one of several methods. They are generally expensive if natural. If you happen upon an especially good bargain on essential oils you can be fairly sure they are artificial. Generally it is best to use the actual essential oil, naturally produced, in magic. I have however used artifical oils with good results. It is an individual decision. Natural essential oils should be diluted with apricot kernal or other vegetable based oil for application to the skin and no essential oil should be used on the skin unless you are specifically directed to do so. Even following these precautions it is possible to be allergic to the oils, so test them on a small patch of skin before you start anointing liberally. Some cause photosensitivity or are toxic when applied to the skin so don't just experiment unless you do some research first.
Unless otherwise noted the whole herb is to be used. In those cases where a particular part of the herb is used it will be indicated. Often a specific preparation of the herb is the magically active part, the roots, the bark, the gum or resin, the oil for examples. Use the correct preparation for the result you desire, do not substitute. There are fairly long lists for each category of intent, if you do not have one of the herbs in the form required, choose another, don't just use another part of the plant it may have an entirely different result. As I said, if no part is specified, use the whole herb.
For those who are so inclined, it is entirely possible to gather herbs from the wild. If you choose to gather them be ABSOLUTELY SURE of your identification. I must emphasis this, be sure of what you are gathering! Also, it is important to consider the law when gathering herbs, both the mundane laws and the natural ones. In most localities it is against the law to pick or dig up plants from parks of any sort; city, state, or national. It is always against the law to trespass on private property to do so. Ask for permission from the land owner first and follow their wishes.
As for the natural laws, you must show respect for the earth from whom you are taking something of value. Conserve resources by taking only what you need, never all of a plant when some leaves will do, and never, never the only plant of its kind in a particular location. If there are many similar plants fine, but if not buy it at the store. It isn't as if you don't have a choice. You must also thank the earth for what you are taking in some way. Historically a gift is left in exchange for the gift you are receiving; this could be a coin or token of some sort, water or milk poured on the ground, or a bit of poetry or other verbal thank you. This should be observed when you gather the herbs or harvest the herbs you have grown. The earth does not mind you using her bounty, but she would like you not to be an ungrateful little wretch about it.
Those who have green thumbs and a bit of space to garden can easily grow many of the herbs they will need for their magic. If you live in an apartment, perhaps there is a community garden nearby where your could obtain a plot. Seeds for those herbs used for culinary purposes can be obtained at any nursery, but some of the more obscure herbs may take a bit of finding. I heartily recommend Chiltern Seeds in the UK. They have a huge catalog of things listed by their botanical names. You will have to convert your remittance into pounds sterling, but there's no better place to find the seemingly unfindable. They have a website now at Chiltern Seeds They have an online catalog and it has a search capacity. A local nursery near me does mail orders and has a wide range of herb plants and seeds, as well as some very interesting vegetables. They are called Nichols Garden Nursery and can be found at Nichols. They have an online catalog, search, and you can request a free catalog be sent to you. Another good source for seeds is the Seed Savers Exchange at SeedSavers.org There is a membership fee and then you can browse through their listings or request a particular type of seed that you are looking for. They have an online catalog that includes the more basic items. If you are interested, there is a plan and some further information about a Witches garden located here.
Once you have your herbs you must store them properly in order to maintain their freshness and potency. Herbs can be kept in dry form for up to a year if a whole herb, up to two years if a root, and up to three years if a resin, when stored correctly. Keep your herbs in airtight bottles or jars, not in the paper or plastic bags they may come in. They should be stored in a cool, dry, dark spot. Although quite decorative, the bundles of herbs hanging from the ceiling plan doesn't work. If you store your herbs that way consider them for appearance only, not to use. Avoid attics, the cupboard over the refrigerator, garages and the like, they are generally too hot. Also avoid storing bags of herbs in the refrigerator as they tend to absorb moisture and odors from the food.
When you jar up your herbs label and date the jar with when the contents were gathered or purchased and what herb the jar contains. This will avoid future problems with identification and lack of freshness. Be sure if you are drying your own home grown herbs that they are completely dry before you store them or they will mold. You may use a food dehydrator at the lowest setting if you have one, or if you have a gas oven dry your herbs in the oven with just the pilot light. Do not dry herbs at a temperature of over 100o or you will lose the volitile oils. If at all possible, simply air dry the herbs for several days to a week until they are crunchy when crushed. When drying roots allow more time and cut them into small pieces before drying as they generally are too hard to break up easily after they are dry.
For the most part you will not require any special equipment to do herbal magic. Much of what you will use can be found in your kitchen. If you find that you are performing a great deal of herbal magic and wish to have specific tools for magical use you may want to consider purchasing or collecting some of the following items for dedicated use. Do note, if you use your coffee grinder for herbs AND coffee, be sure the herbs aren't poisonous and clean it carefully even if they are ok.
The herbal tables and recipes are arranged according to how they are prepared or used. Follow these links.[Incense] [Sachets and Amulet Bags] [Infusions/Teas/Baths] [Powders, Scattering Blends] [Oils/Tinctures/Extracts] [Herb Illustrations]