By Ana Vice
Here, we discuss the spiritual benefits, rituals, and folklore associated with ten sacred herbs.
As you may have read in part one of our new herbal series, plants can be used in a variety of ways to aid in our spiritual healing. Here, we focus on herbs, trees, and plants that help with spiritual purification, protection, and exorcism rituals.
Before you begin your sacred journey with herbs, please keep in mind that some plants are not safe for ingestion, should be handled with extreme care, and labeled accurately in your working space. For example, Mandrake and Wolf’s Bane are poisonous and Cedar is toxic to cats and dogs. Conversely, some dogs go into a frenzy for anise seeds, much like some cats do for catnip. The herbs listed here are intended for spiritual use. Please use common sense and check with your doctor before ingesting herbs.
Included here are some tips, history, and folklore associated with these 10 magickal herbs – many of which you probably already have in your apothecary or cabinet at home. The rest you can find or order from Enchantments which has a botanica of over 150 herbs for your spiritual needs and rituals.
Anise (Pimpinella anisum)
Anise (Anneys, Aniseseed, and Yanisinit are common folk names) is linked to the planet Jupiter and element of air. Its spiritual attributes are protection, purification, and youth. Seeds and leaves are the most commonly used parts in spiritual work.
Stuffing sleeping pillows with anise can help get rid of nightmares or you can add it to protective baths, incenses, and sachets. Its leaves are also used for protection in magick circle rituals, while anise seeds can be burnt to ward off all evil (including the evil eye). Anise essential oil is excellent for protection or purification, and can be used to anoint candles or used as a floor wash.
Anise, which has a licorice-like taste and smell, is not to be confused with Star Anise. It adds an aromatic flavor to sauces, baked goods, and liqueurs (such as Greek Ouzo and French Pastis), and is often added to teas. As far back as 100-200 BCE in Egypt it was used in food, liquor, and as medicine. The Romans made mustacae with anise, which was a spiced cake popular at feasts (most likely a precursor to what we now call a “wedding cake”) and thought to aid in digestion. Similarly, anise is also an ingredient used in traditional hand-fasting cakes.
Witchy Tip: Try making a small pillow stuffed with anise to put under your head at night to get rid of bad dreams or stuff a small poppet with anise leaves to carry with you for protection.
Ash (Fraxinus excelsior, Fraxinus spp)
Ash (also known by its folk names as Asktroed, Nion, and Freixo) has been associated with the Sun and the element of fire – but it also has a strong connection to the sea and element of water. Its spiritual attributes include protection, prosperity, health and prophetic dreams.
Leaves of the ash tree may be used to put into baths, incenses, sachets, or pillows. Its wood can be used to carve amulets or talismans for protection. Ash tree wood is also good (like willow from part 1 of this herbal series) to use to make besoms (a.k.a. witches brooms). Using a besom while smudging is a great way to purify, uncross, and cleanse your space. Sweep anything malefic, toxic, or negative right out of your home.
To read a full feature on the magickal power and mythology of the Ash Tree, click here.
Cedar (Thuja Occidentalis, Cedrus libani or C. spp.)
Cedar leaves, berries, and twigs are used for a variety of spiritual purposes. Cedar twigs or chips can be burned or directly added to incense. It is said that hanging cedar in the home protects it from lightning. To protect your home against evil, you can carve a cedar stick into three prongs and place the prongs up into the ground near the home. Cedar wood can also be used to make wands, drum frames, and talismans or amulets.
Cedar trees are found in the United States, parts of Europe, and the United Kingdom, but the cedar tree of the UK originally came from Lebanon. Cedar is linked to the Norse God Odin and Summer Solstice, so it’s commonly used during Midsummer festivals. Cedar is also used for smudging before a ritual or tarot reading to intensify the reading. It has been suggested in folklore that Unicorns adore little cedar boxes to hide their treasures.
Some Native American tribes consider cedar sacred and powerful medicine. According to the Creation Myth of the Navajo (Dineh), the cedar was the first tree planted by man in the Third World – they used it to climb to safety during a flood. Cedar also represents the Southern direction in the Medicine Wheel in various Native American tribes.
The Fox tribe (also known as Mesquakie Nation or “Red Earth People”) believed that the spirits of their ancestors lived in cedar trees. The Cherokee (Tsalagi) also believed that spirits lived in the cedar tree. The Lakota (Teton Sioux), part of the Sioux Nation, burned cedar leaves as incense in ceremonies for Wakinyan (a powerful sky spirit known as the Thunderbird in Sioux mythology).
A Cherokee (Tsalagi) tale tells the story of the cedar tree and it goes something like this: The Cherokee people wanted it to always be daytime, so they asked the Creator God Unetlanvhi to make it day all the time. The Creator granted their wish. Some time passed, but this new arrangement was not working out so they asked the Creator for it to always be night. The Creator granted them their request.
During this endless night, many of the people died of starvation since the crops died without the sun. They then asked for it to be like it was in the beginning and the Creator returned the balance of day and night. The weather was good, the crops grew back, and the game animals were plentiful and available for hunting. After this ordeal, the people had changed. They treated each other with respect and compassion. They gave thanks to the Creator for all that had been provided. The Creator accepted this and was joyful to see the people in good spirits again. But for the loss of those who had died, the Creator decided to make a new kind of tree – the cedar tree. The Creator then put all of the spirits of the dead into the cedar tree.
For the Cherokee people, the scent or to look at cedar tree means to ‘look upon your ancestors’. This is one reason why the cedar tree is most sacred to the Cherokee. Some Cherokee carry a small piece of cedar wood in their medicine bags for protection and traditional ceremonial drums are made from cedar wood.
Witchy Tip: Burn cedar chips in a fire safe receptacle (might need self-lighting charcoal) as incense to purify and protect yourself and your home. Add sage to enhance the spiritual work at hand.
Mandrake (Atropa mandragora, Mandragora officinale) Poison
Mandrake (also known as Beid el Jin, Herb of Circe, and Hexenmannchen, Ladykins, and Zauberwurzel) is associated with the planet Mercury and the element of fire. Mandrake’s spiritual attributes are protection, fertility, money, love, and health.
The whole mandrake root, placed on the mantel in the home, will give the house protection, fertility, and prosperity. Mandrake is also hung on the headboard for protection during sleep, carried in a pocket to attract love, and worn to prevent illnesses. Where there is mandrake, demons cannot reside, and so the root is used in exorcism.
To bring to life a dried mandrake root, put it into warm water and leave it to soak overnight. Afterwards, the root can be used for spiritual work. Save the water to be used in a floor wash or spray to be used on windows, doors, and mirrors of your home for protection. The mandrake can also be used as a poppet in image magic. Some people substitute true mandrake root with American may-apple.
The mandrake was also used as an aphrodisiac and said to be protective against evil spirits. However, obtaining it was not easy. Legend has it that pulling up a mandrake root leads to sickness or possibly death (i.e. The Mandrake’s Curse). This was because according to superstition, the mandrake “screams” when uprooted, and so people would tie a rope to an animal and then to the plant and allow the animal to pull the plant up. The magical plant was then sold for a high price afterwards. Mandrake has forked roots that resemble a human body, which can grow up to two feet long.
For a full feature spotlight on the power of the Mandrake, click here.
Frankincense (Boswellia carterii)
Frankincense (aka Olibanum and Olibanus) is often associated with the Sun and the Element of Fire. Its spiritual attributes include protection, purification, consecration, and exorcism. It’s burned as a resin to release powerful and positive vibrations, in addition to having the ability to drive away evil and remove negativity. This makes it useful for uncrossing rituals.
Frankincense can be burned to induce visions and to aid in meditation. It’s often added to sachets for luck, protection and spiritual growth. Frankincense essential oil is also a good all purpose anointing oil.
Along the Incense Road, Frankincense has been used and traded for over 3000 years. The Ancient Egyptians burned frankincense at sunrise to honor Ra the Sun God (Creator and God of Light). They believed that Ra’s role was to sail across the heavens during the day in his barque (boat) called the Barque of Millions of Years in order to bring the sun across the sky.
Everyday Ra emerges from the East riding in his barque and during his journey he must fight the evil serpent named Apep (The Lord of Chaos). Apep is a personification of the very darkest hour of the night. If Ra were to lose this fight, the Sun would not rise. In some versions of this story, Ra (in the form of the great and divine cat Mau) defeats the evil serpent Apep. At the end of the day, Ra is swallowed by Nut (Goddess of Night and Moon). Upon his nightly death, Ra sailed down into the Underworld and the Moon took his place in the night sky, illuminating the heavens.
To the Egyptians, the tears and sweat of the gods could be collected from trees like the Boswellia (where Frankincense resin comes from). This resin could be burned itself or used in incense. There was a level of secrecy about the exact process for making incense, but it is known that it required a certain number of days, symbolic ingredients, and magickal formulas. It has been said that the Egyptian priests believed that they could create the bodies of the Gods by combining resins with herbs, honey, wine, or raisins. Incense was considered a Fragrance of the Gods and often burnt before statues of the Gods at their temples in order to honor them. This is why Frankincense was used as an offering to Ra.
Frankincense was also burnt in honor of Baal (Ba’al), God of Fertility, Sun and Storms to the Phoenicians and the Canaanites. Baal’s parents were the deities El (Supreme God) and Asherah (Goddess of Motherhood and Earth), and he was associated with lightning bolts and bull horns. Frankincense also played a big part in honoring kings, Roman Emperors, and biblical Magis. To this day frankincense is included in incense recipes used by the Catholic Church.
Witchy Tip: Anoint a petition (written intention) and white candle with Frankincense oil for an uplifting purification ritual.
Juniper (Juniperus communes)
Juniper (also known by the folk names Enebro, Gemeiner Wachholder, and Gin Berry) is associated with the Sun and element of fire. Its spiritual attributes are protection, anti-theft, exorcism, health and love. Juniper wood is used to make talismans and amulets, while the berries are good for sachets, incense, oil blends, perfumes, or to fill poppets. Juniper essential oil is often blended with other ingredients for use in protection.
Juniper is used by cultures all over the world for spiritual protection. With its unique aromatic profile –– fresh, woodsy, earthy, with a hint of balsamic –– it was traditionally used throughout Europe as an herb of protection and to keep thieves away.
Mediterranean Witches used juniper to break hexes. It can be hung at the door to keep evil away or burned during exorcism rites. A sprig of the plant can protect its wearer against accidents and attacks by wild animals, ghosts, and illness. Juniper can also be added to love mixtures – particularly the berries – which can be carried to increase male sexual potency.
When burning juniper, the smoke is said to aid in clairvoyance. It also burned for purification when attempting to make contact with the Otherworld at Samhain fire festivals (which mark the beginning of the Celtic Year).
Further away in Central Europe, juniper smoke was commonly burned for springtime cleansing. It was also burned during outbreaks of the dreaded Black Death (aka The Pestilence or The Plague, which peaked approximately around 1347 to 1351 in Europe) and used to smudge households. In Medieval times, juniper berries were used to flavor whisky in Scotland. Meanwhile, in other parts of Europe, some people kept Juniper berries in their mouths to create a “protective aura.”
Witchy Tip: Create a protection incense blend using ground up juniper berries and frankincense resin in order to create a safe and sacred space in your home. Self-igniting charcoal and a fire-safe vessel (such as a witch’s cauldron or porcelain dish) works nicely. A coffee grinder used only for magical workings is a good investment.
Mistletoe (Viscum album, Phoradendron leucarpum, P. flavescens) Poisonous
Mistletoe (also known by its folk names All Heal, Devil’s Fuge, and Witches Broom) is associated with the Sun and the element of air. It is used for spiritual protection and exorcism, in addition to love, hunting, fertility, and health. The wood, leaves, and berries can be used.
Mistletoe was long used for protection against lightning, disease, and misfortune. People also believed that a ring made of mistletoe wood could ward off sicknesses when worn. Put by a bedroom door, under a pillow, or above the headboard, mistletoe is thought to promote restful sleep and good dreams. At Yuletide it is believed that if you kiss your love beneath it you’ll remain in love. Burning mistletoe banishes evil. Some believe if you make a necklace of mistletoe and wear it around your neck you will become invisible.
During Alban Arthan (or the Winter Solstice), the Chief Druid would cut the sacred mistletoe from the Oak tree and not allow it to touch the ground. This is done using a golden sickle on the sixth night of the New Moon after the Winter Solstice begins. The branches would be divided into many sprigs and given to the people to use by hanging them over their doorways as protection against thunder, lightning and to keep away evil.
In Norse Mythology, Balder (God of Joy, Light, and Purity) is one of the Aesir Gods and son of Odin (All-Father) and Frigga (Goddess of Love and Beauty; domesticated form of Freya, some say). Balder’s mother loved him so much that she went through the world to attain promises from the four elements – Fire, Water, Air, and Earth – to do no harm to Balder. Loki (a trickster God of mischief, trickery, fire, chaos, and change) found a loophole, of course, which was Mistletoe. Loki made an arrow from its wood, which was ultimately used to kill Balder. It is believed that Frigga's tears became the mistletoe's white berries. There is another version of the story where Balder is resurrected and because of this Frigga made the mistletoe a symbol of love.
Witchy Tip: Take Mistletoe to stuff a small fabric pillow (you can purchase one or make one yourself) and place it under your pillow to have good dreams and protect you as you sleep.
Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)
Aaron’s Rod, Candlewick Plant, and Graveyard Dust are a few folk names for mullein. It is associated with Saturn and the element of fire. Protection, courage, health, love divination, and exorcism are spiritual attributes of mullein. Mullein is used in Wicca, Rootwork, Conjuring and other spiritual practices.
It is said that wearing mullein instills courage and can provide protection. Mullein stuffed into a small pillow can prevent bad dreams. In India, it is considered a good safeguard against evil spirits and bad magic. People hang mullein over doors, in windows, and carry it in sachets. It can also be used for the banishment of demons and negativity.
It is believed that graveyard dust can be substituted with powdered mullein leaves. Once upon a time, witches used oil lamps to illuminate their spiritual and magickal workings. Mullein smoke can be used to cleanse ritual spaces and any other places where magickal work will be done. Mullein stems were sometimes used as wicks. In Roman times, ladies used mullein flowers to dye their hair yellow. Common mullein leaves can also be used to make dye for fabrics.
Some have found Mullein to be a great and natural way to quit smoking tobacco. It hasn’t been approved by the F.D.A., but many herbalists recommend it as an alternative. Please only use mullein that has been stored properly and that can be used for ingestion (Enchantments does not sell herbs for ingestion, etc.).
Mullein is another herb associated with the Greek Goddess Hekate. When doing Conjure work, mullein leaf is a strange bit of material magic because it can be utilized to summon Spirits but also to send them on their way. It’s mentioned in the conjure stories of old, for its ability to draw Spirits and protect the conjurer. Mullein can also be put into a conjure bag to keep on your person or wear around your neck to provide protection in general.
The Herbal Tarot incorporates mullein into the Four of Swords card. The Herbal Tarot is a Rider-Waite based deck that combines herbalism and tarot. The Four of Swords is a card that can be associated with a need to retreat or attain rest. This could be due to exhaustion, illness, or stress. Being able to recharge and regain inner strength in order to prepare yourself for new goals that are viable is important. Grounding and facilitating appropriate boundaries are key. In addition to its protective qualities, mullein is linked to courage and health. The Four of Swords (in The Herbal Tarot) shows a resting man and a vibrant mullein plant. He has put his sword down and has fallen into peaceful slumber.
Witchy Tip: Make a sachet and fill it with mullein to carry with you for protection.
Sage (Salvia apiana, S. dorrii)
White Sage is also known as Bee Sage or Sacred Sage. Purple Sage is known as Tobacco Sage or Fleshy Sage. Sage leaves are considered sacred to Native Americans. It's commonly used for smudging to purify the mind, body and spirit, and often used in ceremonies having to do with birth and death. It can be put into medicine bags, used as an ingredient in incense, blended into an oil, added to a sachet, or bundled with other herbs and flowers.
A Native American story tells of how a beautiful Indian maiden went to gather prickly pears in the desert. It was late when she was heading home and upon her journey she glanced up at the stars. One caught her eye in particular. It seemed to look down on her. Later that night she dreamt of a handsome young man who lived on the star in the sky. It was love at first sight. The lovestruck maiden went to get the advice of a wise witch woman. Instead of taking her own life to free her spirit so she could join her love in the sky, she took the advice of the wise witch and allowed herself to be transformed into sage. In this form, her love could see her every evening and smile upon her. When he saw this he fell from his star, stardust covered the sage, and the young man became transformed into purple flowers atop the sage plants that were once his beloved. Finally, they could be together always.
Witchy Tip: Take some white or purple sage bundles with lavender and burn it in your home with the intention of purification and well-being.
Wolf’s Bane (Aconitum napellus, Arnica latifolia, Arnica montana) Poison
Wolf’s Bane (also known as Cupid’s Car, Dumble-dore’s Delight, and Monkshood) is associated with Saturn and the element of water. Its spiritual attributes are protection and invisibility. Wolf’s bane can be added to protection sachets to ward off vampires and werewolves! Legends say the seeds can be wrapped inside a lizard’s skin and carried in order to make a person invisible. Wolf’s bane was often an important ingredient in witches' magic ointments. The Greeks referred to it as the Queen of Poisons.
Wolf's bane is used as an analogy for the power of divine communion in Liber 65 1:13–16, one of Aleister Crowley's Holy Books of Thelema. Wolf's bane is mentioned in one verse of Lady Gwen Thompson's 1974 poem "Rede of the Wiccae," a long version of the Wiccan Rede: "Widdershins go when Moon doth wane, And the werewolves howl by the dread wolfsbane."
In his mythological poem Metamorphoses, Ovid tells how wolf’s bane comes from the slavering mouth of Cerberus (the three-headed dog that guarded the gates of Hades). In John Keats' poem Ode to Melancholy wolf's bane is mentioned in the first verse as the source of "poisonous wine" possibly referring to Medea. In the 1931 classic horror film Dracula starring Bela Lugosi, a reference is made to wolf's bane about 53 minutes into the film when Van Helsing informs Harker and the doctor that her room has been prepared with wolf’s bane to protect Mina from Dracula.
Witchy Tip: Try creating a sachet and place a personal item in it to carry with you for protection.