Working & Healing with Herbs
|There are two basic ways a witch can use herbs in her healing practices:
* For medicinal purposes
* For magical purposes
These methods may overlap, as herbs may be simultaneously used for medicinal and magical purposes. The ways in which herbs are prepared and used may also overlap, as herbal oils, incense, and teas may be used for both medicinal and magical purposes.
Herbalists today rely on both ancient wisdom and the knowledge of modern science. There remains, however, a reverence for the plant and herbs are never used without first understanding their effects. Some herbs have immediate effect on the body and many can be toxic.
There are two basic methods to prepare herbal teas:
When making an herbal tea, it is standard to use one ounce of dried herb, either alone or in formula, to each pint of water (or 1 Tbsp. per 8 oz. water). The standard therapeutic dosage of the tea is one-half cup tea, 3x per day.
Herbal Compresses & Poultices
A poultice is made by powdering or macerating fresh or dried herbs and applying them directly to the affected area. Alternately, you can also create a plaster by placing the herbs between two layers of linen or cotton.
Herbal Oils & Tinctures
To create an oil extract, the herbs are prepared by macerating them and then adding olive or sweet almond oils (about one pint to 2 oz. herb). The mixture is then allowed to stand in a warm place for three days, or, a faster method is to heat the oil and herbs in a saucepan for at least an hour. In either method, the herbs are then strained off and the oil is bottled, preferably in a dark bottle to keep the oil from oxidizing too quickly.
Essential oils are easily purchased at any of the above locations or metaphysical stores like Herbs & Arts. They vary in expense and quality; you should always make sure to get the essential oil of the plant rather than anything synthetic. Most essential oils, with the exception of lavender and tea tree oils, need to be diluted in a carrier oil before they are applied to the skin. Sweet almond, jojoba, or apricot kernel are good choices for a carrier oil although in a pinch you can substitute olive oil or even good ‘ole vegetable oil.
One nice way to use essential oils is in a diffuser. A diffuser gently heats the oil and allows the scent to spread out throughout the space. I prefer diffusers to incense because they do not burn the herbs, which creates smoke. Essential oils are excellent for aromatherapy, one form of herbal healing.
Tinctures are similar to oils except that alcohol is used to extract the herbal ingredients. It is relatively easy to make tinctures at home by combining 4 oz. of powdered or cut herb with one pint of vodka, brandy, gin, or rum. Shake daily, allowing the herbs to extract for about two weeks. Let the herbs settle and then pour off the tincture, straining through a fine cloth or filter. It is best to put up a tincture at the new moon and strain it off on the full moon to take advantage of the drawing power of the waxing moon.
Tinctures are also readily purchased at any of the above locations. Some are made without alcohol and most are standardized. Like oils, tinctures should be stored in dark bottles and administered with an eyedropper. They are concentrated herbal extracts that only require a few drops to about a teaspoon per dose. Generally, tinctures are made of more potent herbs that are unsuitable for consumption via an herbal tea.
Using Herbs Medicinally
Getting to know how herbs work is a matter of study and experience. If you want to use herbs medicinally, it is recommended that you get a good herb book (a few recommendations at the end) or even take more extensive classes. Herbs are medicine. They are not to be used or taken lightly. It can be difficult to standardize their use, so every practitioner should use caution and seek the advice of a trained herbalist if you are ever unsure!
There are, however, many common herbs and spices that are gentle and non-toxic. We’ll talk about a few of them in this class. If you are new to working with herbs, this would be an excellent place to begin experimenting!
Kitchen Herbs & Spices
Bay oil can be applied to arthritic joints and sprains.
Cayenne is a wonder healer that can be used to prevent heart problems, lose weight, stave off colds/flu/fever, relieve arthritis pain, and more.
Clove powder or oil can be used to relieve toothache pain.
Cumin will prevent and relieve gas (serve with beans!).
Dill will relieve colic and stomach ache.
Garlic oil can be used for colds & flu and to relieve earache.
Ginger can be applied via compress to treat pain and inflammation. It is also excellent for colds/flu/fever and to “activate” any herbal formula.
Olive oil can be taken regularly as a mild laxative.
Rosemary tea can be used as a substitute for aspirin for headache.
Sage tea can be used as a gargle for sore throat.
Chamomile is known as the “Band Aid” of the stomach and is indicated for all stomach and gastrointestinal discomfort. It is also an excellent remedy for menstrual cramps. Chamomile is traditionally used as a remedy for insomnia.
Catnip is a sedative and therefore excellent for insomnia as wellas gently relieving built-up emotional tension. It is also an excellent treatment for diarrhea and colic. It is best taken as tea.
Damiana is an aphrodisiac and also useful for treating depression.
Eucalyptus is one of the most powerful natural antiseptics and is wonderful for chest congestion. Can be rubbed on the chest and back or used in a humidifier or steam bath.
Lavender is an aromatic anti-depressant that is also sleep-inducing.
Lemongrass is the source of citronella oil and may be used to repel insects. It relieves gas and is antimicrobial. It has a sedative effect and is therefore helpful in relieving insomnia. Lemongrass supports the parasympathetic nervous system, which is important in the processes of healing and stress relief. The oil can also alleviate headache. It is excellent in a diffuser. Avoid use during pregnancy.
Licorice root has been shown to be as effective at relieving heartburn as many commercial treatments (like “the purple pill”). It is also a mild laxative and is sweet, so is excellent to add to other bitter herbs. It should be avoided by those with high blood pressure or during pregnancy and should not be used for prolonged periods.
Peppermint (and spearmint) are effective sweating agents to be used for cold, flu, and fever. They are also useful in relieving gas. Peppermint is also good for relieving depression and may be effective in relieving headache.
Raspberry Leaf has been used for centuries by women during pregnancy and childbearing to facilitate delivery and prevent miscarriage. It has a relaxing effect on the uterus and is an excellent tonic for general uterine and reproductive health.
Slippery Elm is a mucilaginous herb that is excellent for sore or irritated throats, cough, or dry throat and lungs. It is also a survival food and may be eaten as needed; it will generally stay down even when all else causes vomiting.
Stevia is an herb that is 10-30 time sweeter than sugar. It makes an excellent, natural sugar substitute and may help to control blood sugar.
Herbs can be combined to create a formula with multiple effects. It is important to store herbs and herbal formulas in glass jars to prevent volatile oils from evaporating. Be sure to label jars—particularly if there is more than one herb in the formula!
Aromatherapy can be used in several ways. One is massage, which activates the circulation in the skin and speeds the entry of the oils into the body (make sure to dilute essential oils before using on skin!). Another method is to put a couple of drops of oil into a hot bath. The oils can also be inhaled by placing a couple of drops in a bowl of hot water and breathing in the steam (or by using a commercial vaporizer). Essential oils can be combined with Epsom and sea salts to create bath salts and bath bombs; they can also be added to an unscented base of shampoo, conditioner, or moisturizer. The oils can be inhaled directly from the bottle. And, my favorite method, is a candle-heated diffuser, which you can buy in just about any metaphysical or health food store. Here are some common essential oils:
Sandalwood is used for tension and anxiety; is a sexual stimulant.
Ylang-ylang is a sedative and antidepressant.
Lavender can heal burns and wounds and is a relaxant.
Rose is helpful for relieving tension in women, especially stress.
Jasmine oil can treat addictions and is a powerful relaxant.
Rosemary can relieve fatigue and headache when inhaled.
Peppermint relieves headache and stimulates perspiration.
Like cut herbs, essential oils can be combined in formula to increase their effectiveness.
Like their medicinal qualities, herbs also possess magical correspondences which align them with the four elements as well as other things we may wish to bring to or put out of our lives. There are also a number of magical applications for herbs, including, but certainly not limited to:
Herbs and herbal essential oils can be used in magic just like other correspondences and they are not restricted to healing magic. Due to their medicinal effects, however, they are a powerful ingredient to add to any physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual healing work.
Incense is typically made by crushing herbs with a mortar and pestle and then combining the crushed herbs with essential oils until the right scent and consistency is reached. Potpourri, on the other hand, uses larger herb pieces and a variety of herbs that is appealing to the eye. Use a bit of orris root powder to “fix” the potpourri; it will help the smell to last.
Essential Oil Blends
Herbs and spices can be used in the kitchen without reservation to make food and drink both healing and magical. Herbs are particularly effective when used to induce sweating (thereby enhancing immunity) or when used to alleviate indigestion. When grown, gathered, or used with magical intention, those herbs become even more powerful.
When working with any of these magics, it is easy to “layer” the magic that you use to make your intent strong. For example, you could work a spell over many months, planting herbs at a specific time on a specific day, then harvesting the herbs in the same way. Those herbs could then be used for a specific magical working, to be executed at a specific date and time. These “layers” make the magic just that much stronger.
Author & Research of this Article, Sif Redeagle, April 1, 2006
From the Website, Coven of the Goddess.com