A Guide to Buying, Using and Storing Herbs and Plants for Magical Use.
Plants and herbs are used in many aspects of witchcraft such as herbal magic, to stuff poppets, for cooking within kitchen witchery, making herbal remedies and creating incense for use in spells and ritual work. Herbs and many other plant materials such as seeds, roots and flowers can be grown at home or bought either fresh or dried. Many herbs can be grown and dried easily at home without the need for specialist equipment or large spaces. Many useful ingredients such as rowanberries, elderberries, elderflowers, rose petals, blackberries and oak leaves can also be found growing wild and foraged.
Growing, Using and Preserving Fresh Herbs and other Plants
If you have live plants growing they will require love and care to remain healthy and grow well. This may include regular watering, feeding and repotting as they grow so that their roots have plenty of space to spread and find nutrients. Plants can be an attractive addition to any room in your home and as well as being useful in your magical work and many common herbs including basil, sage, thyme and bay can be grown inside and are ideal for a kitchen windowsill. If you have a garden or even a small patio or balcony space you can grow a wide selection of plants and herbs either directly in the ground or using pots and containers. These can be specifically designed plant containers from a garden centre or alternatively you can reuse a range of items such as wooden containers, guttering, empty drinks bottles and even old wellington boots. Any containers that you wish to use for growing should have several holes drilled into the bottom so that excess water can drain out as most plants do not grow well if their roots become waterlogged. Once you have chosen containers you can either grow your plants from seeds or buy young plant.
Leaves, flowers and seeds can be harvested, stored and used whenever you need. In the case of seeds and flowers these may not be available all year round so you may wish to dry some for use at a later date. This can be carried out in several ways:
- · Plant materials can be dried in a low oven. They should be spread out into a single layer and placed into an oven preheated to between 60°C - 70°C (140°F - 160°F). The oven door should be left slightly open to allow for air to circulate. Ideally mesh or wooden slatted trays should be used to dry herbs as these allow for good air circulation but regular trays can also be used with good results.
- · If you wish to dry whole stalks or stems of a herb such as rosemary or mint or oak leaves on a branch for example, these can be hung as they are in a dark and dry place until completely dry. A rarely used cupboard is ideal as long as it does not get too hot. The herbs should be kept out of sunlight as this will have a negative effect on their colour, aroma and flavour.
- · A dehydrator can also be used to dry plant materials by following the instructions for your particular device.
In some cases such as cooking, making herbal teas and soap making you can also use herbs and other plant items fresh.
Buying and Using Dried Herbs and other Plant Materials
Many herbs can be bought already dried and ready to use. In the case of more common herbs such as basil, thyme, mint, parsley or bay these can be easily bought from many places. To obtain more uncommon or specialist items you may have to shop online, through one of the many reliable and reputable suppliers of herbs, flowers, barks, seeds and also resins that can be found.
All dried herbs should be stored in well labelled containers or zip lock bags and kept in a cool, dark place. Small zip lock bags in a tin or other container is one idea for storing herbs or you could use small dark glass bottles. Whatever storage system you chose every item should be clearly labelled to avoid any confusion at a later date. Many dried items will look the same and not all are safe for all applications. This is especially true if you are making something that will be consumed or placed on the skin. It is also useful to add the date of purchase to the labels as herbs can become less effective or flavourful over time. Adding a note of where you bought rarer or harder to obtain items will make it easier to buy them in future. Your collection of herbs and plants should be kept out of reach of young children and animals because of the risk of them ingesting something harmful.
When buying dried items it is best to only buy what you will need at the time or will use in a short time. Over time you will slowly build up a well-stocked supply that will be fresh and effective as it is regularly replenished. Buying a large selection of herbs at once may seem like a good idea and is likely to be easier but if they take a long time to be used up they may be past their best and effect the success of your work. You may also find that you do not end up using a type of herb as much as you though or at all and in this case the money may have been better spent elsewhere.
Using Plants in Magic
Most people agree that it is best to make each remedy, herbal sachet, candles or incense blend as you need it rather than making a large amount and storing it. This is due to the fact that the ingredients can degrade over time and become less effective. Another factor to consider if you are making items or preparing herbs and plants to be included in spells is that, by preparing them at the time of use or shortly before you can infuse them with your intent, energy and wishes during the creation process.
If you do make items in advance or there is a particular blend or brew you use often so it is more practical to make it in larger amounts, then care must be taken to label the container correctly with the name and date. If you have used a combination of herbs it can also be useful and a good idea to include a list of ingredients. If not you may wish to put this information in your journal or Book of Shadows, if you use one. Information such as relevant chants, where you found the spell, ritual or instructions and any results good or bad could be noted as well for future reference.
Do you Use Herbs in Magic?
Use Caution When Working with all Herbs and Plant Materials
Although herbs and other plants are natural and grow freely in many places they may not be safe to use in all applications. Care should also be taken as some poisonous or potentially dangerous plants can look very similar to others that are safe to use. This is especially true when foraging from the wild and if you are at all unsure of plants identification it is best not to take a chance.
When buying live plants care should be taken in identifying them correctly – be sure that the label in the pot is the correct one, for example. In some cases a plant may have edible and non-edible varieties so this should be checked carefully. Where possible use the correct botanical names to avoid confusion. Plants from garden centres and other shops may also have been treated with various chemical fertilisers and pesticides and this is worth considering. If a plant is not commonly used for anything other than ornamental value these sorts of chemicals may not be suitable for eating or use on the skin and cause adverse reactions.
When creating any magical item for consumption or use on the skin for someone else it is very important to tell them every ingredient. Even seemingly harmless everyday items can cause problems for people such as allergic reactions. Extra care should be taken for pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, babies and young children and those who are elderly or unwell as there are some plants that are not safe for use at these times, even though they are generally considered to be safe. For children is may be possible to find specifically tailored recipes at lower concentrations or to buy ready-made remedies.
When you have made an item such as a soap, lotion or cream it should be tested first on a small area of skin. You should then wait to check for any undesired reactions such as rashes, soreness or spots. If you were to react badly it is better to have a small area affected than to have bathed in something or rubbed it over a large area of your body. Keep a note of any adverse reactions and what ingredients where in the product. Over time, this will enable you to see if it is one particular ingredient causing you a problem.
Finally, always use your senses to assess items. If you have stored something for some time and it now smells bad, use with caution as it may mean that it has gone off or turning bad and may not have the desired effect. If at any time you feel something disagrees with you discontinue using it and look into finding another way to achieve your purpose.
© 2014 Claire