by Mary Kara
Herbs have a long and varied history of interesting uses. From the first prehistoric human to the modern day Amazon forest gatherers, herbs have been a vital part of our life. Originally, the study of herbs was by trial and error to find out which plants were edible and which were poisonous. Plants, trees, vines, and bushes were checked out. Then, early herbalists realized that sometimes only certain parts such as the seed, fruit, flower, bark, stem, root, resin, juice or leaves of the herb, were either effective or poisonous. Now, hundreds of research laboratories study thousands of plants each year, many newly discovered in the rainforests of the Amazon.
Herbal Uses Through the Years
The study and use of herbs has been the foundation of modern medicine, ethnic cuisine, aromatherapy, perfumes, dyes, magical spells and flavored drinks.
Most medicines have been developed from herbal sources: aspirin, valium, digitalis, common cold rubs, and many more. Still, using herbs internally as medicines or flavoring does have its hazards. All herbs have medicinal components. Nearly all concentrated herb oils are poisonous if more than 2-3 drops are taken internally. Plants such as mistletoe and mandrake are extremely, instantly poisonous. Others, such as wormwood have effects that accumulate over time. All herbs and oils should be kept out of the reach of children and pets.
Many of the spices in our food were originally included for medicinal, magical or preservative purposes. Garlic and ginger were first used as medicines. Oregano and mint were used to aid and sooth digestion. Mint kept milk from curdling before refrigerators were available. The apples and cinnamon of apple pie were considered to be a love spell. Parsley was supposed to keep evil spirits away from food, so the Romans placed it on their plates, a custom that continues to this day. Later they discovered that Parsley freshened the breath, preceding breath mints by hundreds of years.
Aromatherapy may be becoming more scientifically accepted, but it has been around since ancient times. Whether coming from oils in a diffuser or burning as incense, the scent has a very strong impact on the human mind and the resulting attitude. The smell can be as relaxing as Lavendar, or as invigorating as Ginger or Lime. Some doctors and hospitals are experimenting with scents to improve relaxation and healing. Perhaps dentists should use Lavender in their offices!
A soothing herbal bath with relaxing scent is a great way to relieve stress at the end of the day. Give your cats some catnip to help them after a long day of napping and eating.
Almost any herb may be burnt as incense using the small incense charcoals available. Be sure to use a heatproof container with some sand underneath the charcoal. This is a fun way to experiment with mixing your own recipes. Remember that the herb must be thoroughly dry first. If you use a resin such as Frankincense, Myrrh or Dragon’s Blood, realize that resins are more concentrated and a smaller amount is needed. Small amounts of your favorite oil may be burned on charcoals also. Remember that herbs that are poisonous should not be burned, because the smoke is usually poisonous also.
If you are into home handcrafts, herbs can be used in dried flower arrangements, potpourri mixtures, pomanders, sachets, mixed into candles, and used for dyeing yarn or fabrics. Use your imagination to experiment with new ideas. This is also a great way to make unique gifts. You could make up a batch of custom herbal teas to match your friends’ tastes.
Herbs have been used for magical spells long before the first Druid picked the first mistletoe (and long before the first kiss underneath it, at Yule celebrations). Amazingly, modern research has shown that often the magical and medicinal uses have matched up. Some of the herbs used for relaxation spells, for example, have turned out to be good tranquilizers.
They have been used as an integral part of spells for love, protection, money, luck, health, court cases, fidelity, seeing ghosts or fairies, and promoting courage in battle, etc. They can be sprinkled around doors, windows, candles, inside wallets, under pillows, or in your pockets.
A less messy alternative is to make up a “Mojo” Bag or “Power” Pouch. I like to call them “Focus” Pouches, because they help you focus on a specific goal. Use a natural fabric such as cotton or silk or a leather pouch. Then put a pinch of each herb that supports the purpose. Tie it up and put it in the place that is appropriate for your goal…for instance: “Protection” in your car; “Sleep” under your pillow; “Money” in your pocket or purse; “Love” worn next to your heart. There are herbs and spells for every purpose imaginable. But, always remember the basic ethics ruling spells:
- And if it harms none, do what you will.
- Whatever you send out, good or bad, will return to you three times as strong. That’s called “Karma.”
- Remember; be careful what you ask for. You may get it, but not always in the way you might expect.
- Start off with basic, simple spells for yourself. Be sure you know what you are doing before you do a spell for someone else.
- Never do a spell for someone else without his or her permission. (See “Karma” above.) This may violate their free will.
- Before you do any spell, decide if a spell is the best way to handle a situation.
- Never do a spell when you are angry or emotionally upset. Calm down and reconsider your actions.
- Take small steps, don’t try to become a millionaire overnight.
- Give the spell time to work. A spell is like a “crock pot,” not like a “microwave.” Let the spell “cook” for a while to see if it works.
- Don’t try to do too many spells at once. Focus on one thing, when it works, try another.
Always write down all the details of your spell. So if it does work, you will remember how to do it again, if you need it at some other time. Learn about the waxing and waning of the moon and how timing affects spells. The more you go with the flow of the energy, the better the results.
So you are ready to do your first spell. You have researched and gathered up the ingredients, only to find you are missing an important herb. All the herb stores are closed. What can you do?
Well, many herbs have the same magical uses, so it is possible to substitute one herb for another. Below is a brief list of purposes and some of the herbs that can be used for those purposes.
HERBAL SUBSTITUTION CHART
PLEASE NOTE THAT * DENOTES A POISONOUS HERB
Five Finger Grass
High John Root *
Grains Of Paradise
Get Away Root
When in doubt about the uses of an herb always research it in an herbal reference book. Be sure and check the copyright date to ensure getting the most up-to-date information. Many of the antique Herbals are being reprinted. They are historically interesting, but often inaccurate about the uses and side-effects. Most books include a picture or drawing of the plant, the Latin name, well known uses, parts of the herb to use and any known side-effects. They often include lists of plants to be careful with. Always research any herb to be taken internally and consult your doctor as well. Knowing the Latin name of an herb will help ensure that you get the correct variety of the plant for the specific intended use. The books also usually include tips on preserving, drying, growing and how to store them. They should be kept out of direct sunlight in dark-colored, well-sealed containers (not metal). A good herbal book also tells how to make teas, tinctures, poultices, salves and other herbal applications. If you plan to gather herbs from the wild, be sure to take a very experienced person with you because many plants look alike.
With a little care, the world of herbs can be fun and satisfying.