Herbs are wonderful creatures. They can soothe a sore throat in a tea, add luster to hair in a rinse, or enhance luck in an amulet. Anyone practicing magic should already have some familiarity with their wide range of uses; and if not, there exists a wealth of books on the subject, from Scott Cunningham’s classics to Jude Williams’ decidedly practical tome. The natural properties of herbs are enhanced when a witch handles them properly and empowers them with magical intention.
As Raven Grimassi writes in Wiccan Magick,
“There are four basic aspects of the Herbal Craft: planting, caring, harvesting, and employing. These four steps are the occult mechanisms linking the Wiccan to the indwelling spirit of the herb, and helping to empower it. By using this formula the Wiccan can enter into a magickal relationship with the plant, and thus gain the favor of its spirit so that it will lend its aid to a work of magick.”
He goes on to list very specific actions to perform for each aspect listed.
Of course, not every climate or every living situation is suitable for growing every kind of herb you may want to use, so it would be impossible to always plant your own batches. But when simply buying herbs from a supplier, you won’t be able to plant, care for or harvest the plant you’d like to employ, so that close connection and rapport with the herb will be missing from your work. So this year, do your best to either plant a bed of the herbs most suitable to your climate and most likely to be used by you, or if you don’t have a garden, care for some potted plants in a window box. At least the few herbs you do choose to cultivate will be that much more potent. You’ll know exactly what went into them, and can be sure that they will be safe for ingestion or other uses.
First off, choose a place to plant. Even a strip of soil next to a curb will suffice; if you have a yard, so much the better. Consult with your local nursery or gardening club to select a location with the right amount of sunlight, moisture, and drainage for the herbs you’d like to plant (be sure to check whether they’re even viable for cultivation in your climate!).
Once you’ve chosen the locale and prepared the soil, it’s time to plant! Witches are used to consulting the almanac for everything, and planting is no exception; the moon phases are just as important here as in your spellwork. Ann Moura (Aoumiel) describes how to align your gardening activities with the lunar cycle for best results in her book Green Witchcraft:
In planting and harvesting herbs for magical use, the phases of the moon play an important part in your schedule. For planning purposes, most calendars designate the days of the new moon, first quarter, full moon and last quarter (an almanac will also have this information). Plant flowering annuals and above-ground crops with exterior seeds (such as wheat) when the moon is waxing between the new moon and the first quarter. Between the first quarter and the waxing full moon, plant above-ground crops with interior seeds (such as peas). Root crops, bulbs, biennials and perennials (such as most herbs) should be planted between the last quarter and the new moon.
Many people not only plant during the right phase of the moon, but under the proper astrological sign as well. Using the moon in relation to astrological signs is often featured in almanacs. Since the information is a common feature of Wicca, you should know that the moon remains in an astrological sign about two and one-half days, and again an almanac is your best source for this information. Fruitful signs, used for planting and pruning for growth, are Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces, Taurus, Capricorn and Libra. The barren signs, used for weeding, cultivating, and harvesting herbs, are Leo, Virgo, and Sagittarius, with Aries, Gemini, and Aquarius for harvesting herbs and roots in particular.
Care for your herbs by providing them with the nourishment they require (read up on your plants!), plus a lot of love and kind words. Rather than using chemical pesticides and herbicides to control pests and weeds, look into natural alternatives. For example, putting out a birdbath will attract birds to your garden to help with the insects. One website, www.invisiblegardener.com, provides a great quantity of easy-to-follow advice as well as recipes for making your own organic sprays from ordinary household items; there are many other websites doing the same. Again, read up on the subject! Finally, when you’re ready to harvest, do it right. Keep track of what you harvest and when, and don’t neglect to label them right away. Moura also provides guidelines for herb collection and storage in her aforementioned book, Green Witchcraft:
Herbs should be collected on a dry day, preferably cut with your bolline. Tell the plant why you are taking a piece and ask for permission. You should either leave something in return or give the plant your blessing; however, your herb garden plants are likely to be more generous and less interested in receiving a “gift” because they know you tend them. Nevertheless, it never hurts to be polite to the energies (devas) that inhabit and empower the plants. To retain the magic properties, do not set the cutting on the ground. A garden basket over one arm is very useful. Tie the herbs in small bundles and hang a string in an airy, dark place to dry (I use red thread or embroidery floss to enhance the power of the herb). Leaves and flowers without stems can be dried in a muslin bag, although I have used paper sacks with equal success. After a week, the herbs should be ready to be crumbled, minced or ground, then stored in the dark in tins or in bottles with screw-top lids. I save larger sized bottles from ready-made sauces and jams for re-use in storing my herbs and teas in a cupboard away from light.
Finally, don’t forget to enjoy the fruits (and leaves, and roots) of your labors! Have some fun making sachets, soothing baths, natural hand lotion and invigorating teas, or alleviating the occasional sting of an insect bite! Use them in your spells and rituals to enhance your workings. Read up and you’ll be amazed at all you can do with a few choice herbs.