Plants and herbs are a common ingredient in many forms of magic. Whether you are making incense, stuffing a sachet, or brewing a folk remedy, if you practice long enough, you’re eventually going to have a use for them. When that’s the case, you’ll want to use the best possible ingredient.While store bought herbs will do in a pinch, I prefer to harvest my own. This way: you can be confident of freshness, you can establish a relationship with the donor plant, and you can harvest with intent, contributing to the power of the destined spell. Your spell work begins with the gathering of components, so treat the activity with the focus it deserves.
The first thing you will need is a cutting tool. Some traditions recommend the use of a sickle-shaped tool with a white handle, called the Boline. Here’s an example of what one looks like:
Personally, I don’t recommend the use of a Boline. Here’s why:
- They tend to tear the plant instead of cutting it. The jagged edges this leaves behind are more prone to infection, and susceptible to insect attack.
- They’re conspicuous, and the layman may mistake it for a weapon. Enjoy explaining to a cop that it is a “special knife for witchcraft”.
- They require considerable care to keep sharp
If your beliefs don’t specifically demand the Boline, I instead recommend a pair of garden pruning shears with white handles. They are affordable, inconspicuous, and designed to do as little damage as possible to the plant.Once you’ve chosen your knife, you should consecrate it. It should never be used for any purpose other than the harvesting of plants. When it isn’t in use, store it near your altar.Next, you’ll need something to carry your herbs in. I use a large linen hip bag with an over the shoulder strap. You’ll also need some twine or string to divide the herbs you’ve collected, and a “harvest journal” so you can take note of the location of plants you find.Finally, you need an offering to thank them for their gift. In magic, there is nothing without sacrifice. In the store, you pay with money. In nature, you can pay with fertilizer. I generally carry around a re-purposed water or soda bottle filled with fertilizer mix.
Finding Your Herbs
Some of us are lucky to live close to forests or natural fields on public land, but for many it can be a challenge to source wild herbs.If you live in a city, find out if there are any nature trails or reserves in your area, then check what their policies are. You can also search for vacant lots, or neighbors with a green thumb. Make sure to ask before helping yourself! Sometimes you can find areas beneath power lines where herbs and flowers are allowed to grow freely. Taking plants from those areas is usually allowed.You should try to avoid harvesting near a road (where the plants will have taken in a lot of pollution), from very small plants, or plants that appear to be sick. You don’t want to eat a sick plant, and you don’t want to kill a plant by taking from it. A good rule of thumb is to never take more than 25% of the plant’s total growth.
Before you cut the plant, you should take some time to connect with it. Examine it to see if it is healthy. Take your time identifying it. Feel the plant’s energy and let it get to know you. Once you’ve determined that the plant is a good candidate, you should ask its permission to take it.This process is intuitive. Some believe you should ask aloud, others that you can ask silently, communicating with the plant by focusing your intent. Let the plant know what you want to use it for, and invite it to participate with you. Then, wait a few minutes and listen for a response.You should get an impression on whether or not it is okay. This could come in the form of a sensation, such as an inviting warmth, or a chill that turns you away. It could just be a sense of satisfaction. Trust yourself and go with what you sense is right. If you feel unsure or anxious, find another plant.
Using your sharp implement, make a clean, angular cut near a joint. This will make it easier for the plant to heal and regrow. You will want to choose a portion of the plant that is not the oldest (dark and woody), and not the youngest (the lightest with the most budding leaves). A good middle-aged branch is best. Be sure to never take more than 25% of the total plant growth.While you are harvesting the plant, you should focus yourself on the intent of the spell you’re collecting it for. If you’re gathering chamomile for a healing tea, visualize yourself getting well. If you’re casting a money spell, see yourself getting that big cheque! If the goal is a love spell, see yourself with your ideal partner.No specific goal? If you’re harvesting for general purposes or to replenish your stock, you can focus on the properties of the plant, and enforce your intention that it should lend strength to your work.Tie the plants that you have collected into a bundle so that they wont get lost in your other herbs when you put them in your carrying bag.
Having taken from the plant, you should give thanks for the gift. Tell it that you’re grateful, and assure it that it wont be misused. Then, provide payment!Pour the fertilizer you brought at the roots of the plant. If you stumbled upon the plant accidentally and don’t have your fertilizer with you, make some other form of offering. Traditionally, a small coin at the base of the plant can show your willingness to give. Don’t litter! The scrap of paper or cloth in your pocket is probably not a suitable offering.Before you go, spend a moment tending to the plant. Clear debris from around it, untangle it from choking weeds and pluck off any dead matter. Practice respect by leaving it in better condition than it was when you found it!
Storing and Preparing for Use
To use the herbs fresh, simply wash them in cool water and pat them dry. They can be kept lively for a few days by putting them in a vase of water and keeping them in a cool area (if your fridge isn’t too cold, that’ll do nicely).If you wont be using them within a few days, or want to put them in a sachet, tea or incense, you will probably need to dry them.Tie a string around the base of a bunch of the washed, dried herbs and suspend them upside down in a warm place with good ventilation. To avoid collecting dust, I like to tie brown paper bags over them. Check them once a week, and take them down when they are dry and brittle, but before they turn to powder beneath your thumb. The length of time they’ll take to dry will vary widely based on your climate and the thickness of the plant.When they’re dry, keep them in a labeled, airtight container for up to six months.
Record any observations you make while working with the herb along with it’s location in your harvest journal. If the plant is particularly fragrant or effective, write it down so you know to go back! If it doesn’t work well for you, make note of that, too.