An herbal example – chamomile

Today I’m teaching my intro to herbs class at the Magical Druid, but for those of you who can’t be there in person, I thought I would demonstrate one small aspect of what I’m teaching today. (By the way, I also offer this as a correspondence course, for which I’m currently developing more material; if you’re interested, email me at literatahurley@gmail.com.)

I encourage students to begin their journey into herbalism by creating their own notes on each herb they study; this journal becomes a place to organize research as well as one’s own thoughts and intuitions, and becomes the foundation for future work. I provide an example from my own notebook, which is very much a work in progress, and discuss why I have arranged the parts of each entry the way I have.

My entry on each herb is broken up into the following sections:

  • Names – here I describe any common names and also list the scientific name(s) for the species of plants they describe. Scientific names are an important way to be able to be sure you’re talking about the same plant, since common names are many and varied, and have changed over time and from region to region.
  • Warnings and contraindications – This is an absolute must. Potential allergies, pregnancy warnings, drug interactions, and more should all be noted here. Even things that are regularly used in food can have medically important interactions. Please note that none of my information is a substitute for consulting a trained medical professional!
  • Parts used – I find this a useful way to describe how different parts of the same plant are used in different contexts. This can actually help me come up with new ideas for magical workings by encouraging me to think more broadly about an herb I’m already familiar with.
  • Uses – Here I describe major purposes that the herb is used for, along with its important correspondences and any other magical information, such as what other materials it works well with. This is really the heart of the entry, so I go into more detail here, although I don’t usually include specific spells or recipes (as described below). I tend to note historical uses only when they influence how I tend to use the herb in a present context.

For example, my notes on chamomile read as follows:

Names:
Chamomile
name of multiple plants in the Asteraceae family

German chamomile – most common species used
(Matricaria recutita)

Roman chamomile, noble chamomile, English chamomile
(Chamaemelum nobile)

Warnings, contraindications:

Do not use Roman chamomile during pregnancy
People with ragweed allergy may be allergic to chamomile
May cause drowsiness

Parts used: flowers, dried and used in sachets, infusions

Uses:

Magically associated with the sun, can be used for prosperity.

Main use is for calming, relieving anxiety, and promoting healing. Can cause drowsiness and be used to induce sleep. Infusion is very good for this.

Try combining with peppermint (especially for digestive upset) or valerian for extra anxiety reduction.

Infusion can also be used topically on irritated skin, has mildly anti-inflammatory effects.

Personally, I organize these notes alphabetically by common name, and keep an index that helps me cross-reference plants that I might know by multiple common names.

In a separate space, I keep “recipe cards” for combinations of herbs, oils, incenses, or other nifty concoctions I’m working on or might want to try in the future.

Finally, in my working magical journal I record spells that I’ve actually performed, and reflect on the results of the spell. Then I will update my other two resources with notes if important.

I find it really helps to keep my notes separated this way so that I know where to find what I’m looking for – if it’s information about an herb, I go to my notebook; if it’s a particular recipe, I to go my recipe cards; and if it’s details of how I implemented a particular spell, I go to my magical journal. When I’m coming up with a new spell or recipe, I might use all three in combination, but usually I just need one of them.

What are your favorite resources for studying herbs? How do you organize your information about a broad topic like this? I’d love to know!

Calendula and chamomile

With all the stress lately, I’ve developed some irritated skin. Here are two pieces of kitchen witchery I’ve done in the last few days to take care of it.

Calendula and chamomile facial mask

I mixed 1 part calendula powder, 1 part chamomile powder, and 6 parts cosmetic clay. I added enough water to make a texture slightly thicker than yogurt and applied to clean skin fairly thickly. I didn’t let it dry all the way – the goal was to use the mask as a sort of poultice for irritated skin, and I didn’t want to undo the good of the herbs by dehydrating the skin afterwards.

This felt good on my skin; I dried gently and put on a light lotion, and the irritation was decreased.

Calendula and chamomile salve

In the top of a double boiler, I simmered 1 Tbsp each calendula and chamomile powders in 100 g light olive oil for about 20 minutes. Then I added 30 g beeswax and stirred until it was all melted. Poured out into a clean container and let cool with occasional additional stirring – if you don’t stir while cooling, it separates into layers – can anyone advise me about easier ways to prevent this?

This produced a nice consistency, firm enough that it doesn’t feel oily but still very spreadable. It’s grainy from the powders being left in; next time I’ll simmer the whole herb in a cloth bag so I can remove it. This does smell strongly of calendula and chamomile, though, and it has a potentially less than appealing brown color, but neither of those bother me.

Obviously, I’m just beginning to dip my toes into the wider expanses of herbalism and kitchen witchery. I’d be happy to hear advice or suggestions from my readers!

What’s in your Witch-kit?

While I was taking a break from writing, I worked on some other aspects of my life and practice. One of those was reorganizing my Craft supplies – putting herbs into (labelled) storage containers, sorting candles, and generally moving things around so that I can get at what I want more easily.

Along the way, I’ve selected a handful of materials to put in a small cabinet – about the size of a medicine cabinet – which I’m going to hang near my altar to have at hand all the time. I debated quite a bit about what to put in there, so I’m going to share my list here and ask in turn: What’s in your Witch-kit?

What do you use on a daily or near-daily basis? What are the things that you turn to most frequently, both for planned and unplanned situations?

Mine has:

Two small candle-holders and an assortment of candles: several colors each of chime candles, Hannukah candles, and birthday candles

Small jars of some herbs: lavender, rosemary, juniper, juniper berries, holly berries (may switch this out for something more seasonal in the spring), chamomile, tobacco

Tiny (2ml) bottles of oils: peppermint, lavender, cedarwood

Tray holding pointed quartz crystal, a couple stones from significant places, and tumbled stones: clear, smoky, and rose quartz, fluorite, selenite, jet, amber, hematite, snowflake obsidian, malachite, garnet, amethyst, tiger’s eye, citrine, and lapis

Small boxes of stick incense: pine, cedarwood, sandalwood, amber, jasmine, vanilla, lavender, cinnamon