he beauty of folk magic is that it is practical magic. Don’t have an obscure magical herb for a spell? No worries, find something already in your pantry or yard instead. Don’t have a special anointing oil for your candle spell? No worries, use olive oil. Lacking a specific incense for a ritual? You guessed it… there’s something in your kitchen cupboard to burn in its place. I’ve put together a simple guide to using herbs, spices and other goods already in our pantries for magic in a pinch and on a budget.
First things first… To our ancestors, everything in life was magic and everything was subject to being cursed or blessed by spirits. They had incantations and spells to bless and protect their homes, tools, clothing, beer (an important one, I know), and even their food stores. Why not perform a little magic to protect your pantry from mice, rats, pets, insects, theft, and spoilage and then bless it with prosperity and plenty so it’s always stocked full of nourishing food for you and your family? How would you do this? Armed with knowledge from this article and ingredients from your kitchen of course!
Raiding the Spice Rack
You know, that thing where jars full of herbs and spices sit for years before you remember to use them. We all have a collection somewhere in our kitchen whether it’s neatly labelled jars or still in the little baggies, with twist ties from the store, shoved in a cupboard. We probably owe them an apology for such forgetful treatment and a good way to do so is to bring them out and put them to use, reminding their aging selves what magical creatures, full of power, they really are.
Basil – (Fire/Mars)
A herb long considered divine which lends itself very well to rites of cleansing, exorcism, and protection. It can be burned as incense, added to magical herbal sachets, made into an herbal tea for use as a floor wash or room spray, or added to a magical bath. Basil soothes people’s emotions and anxiety making it excellent for general house cleansing. In folklore where there is basil, no evil lives, but it is still not one of the strongest banishing herbs – if you need something more “serious” I’d recommend bay, cloves, garlic, or rosemary. As an added bonus for witches, basil is also associated with flying and can be added to concoctions or baths to aid in spirit flight.
Bay – (Fire/Sun)
You put it in your soups and sauces but ancient Greek priestesses chewed the leaves to receive visions for supplicants at the temples of Apollo. The leaves of the bay laurel are excellent for concoctions for divination and the sight and are often burned or ingested to induce prophetic visions and dreams. Bay also has a long history of being used for purification, banishing, curse reversal, and protection from evil spirits and illness. Add dried bay leaves to holy water when sprinkling a space or object to purify it. Burn bay leaves to aid in curse reversals or the banishment of undesired spirits. For a bit of simple folk magic, write a wish on a dried bay leaf and then burn it hoping the gods and/or spirits will favour you.
Cinnamon – (Fire/Sun)
Besides its passionate aphrodisiac associations with Aphrodite, cinnamon is also commonly used in folk magic for “heating up” spells — whether they be for love, money, success, or protection. To “heat up” a spell means to make it happen more quickly or more strongly. Cinnamon is found in the ancient holy anointing oil recipe from the Bible and in ancient Egyptian incense recipes from a complex kyphi to a simple blend of cinnamon, frankincense, and myrrh.
In rootwork it is an ingredient in the popular “fiery wall of protection” blend as well as other cleansing and protective incenses, but is most commonly used to bring good fortune and prosperity to a business. Burn cinnamon at your business and/or make a tea of it and pour it on your front step to bring in customers and their money. Burn cinnamon in your home to quiet its energies or your children’s. Burn cinnamon with frankincense and myrrh to purify a person, object, or place of evil influences and attached spirits.
Cloves – (Fire/Jupiter)
Most people don’t use cloves except for a pinch in apple or pumpkin pie once or twice a year – what a waste of all the homemade chai you’re not drinking! Cloves are one of the strongest and best herbs you can burn for protection as the smoke will protect you psychically and physically whether from a deliberate attack or an unconscious evil eye directed at you. Any time you’re worried about a possible attack – burn powdered cloves. If you’re dealing with something really nasty, burn garlic skins and cloves together. Due to their protective and cleansing qualities, it should come as no surprise that most Florida Water recipes contain cloves. If you suspect someone is gossiping about you behind your back, stud a candle with whole cloves and burn it down or simply burn more powdered cloves while stating your intent.
Mint – (Air/Mercury)
Mint is uplifting, refreshing, invigorating, and delightful. There is nothing like the scent of fresh mint! It clears the mind and gives one energy. If you need a mental pick-me-up brew yourself some mint tea to drink or use it to rinse your hair after conditioning. Mint is stimulating bringing activity and business making it another good herb for “heating up” spells and bringing prosperity. Slip some dried mint leaves in your wallet or cash register to attract money. Place fresh mint on your altar or working space to summon your spirits and double as a lovely offering for them in return for the magic you have planned.
Selling your house or business? Spray a mint hydrosol (or mint essential oil mixed with water) around the rooms or place some mint essential oil in an oil diffuser to attract a buyer. In rootwork, mint can also be used to protect from curses by stashing some leaves in your shoe or in a sachet you carry on your person. In folk magic, mint can be used to receive visions and enhance psychic abilities making it excellent for teas, smoking blends, incenses, or ritual baths meant to aid in divination, dreamwork, or visionary experiences.
Pepper – (Fire/Mars)
Everyone has black pepper in their home, but most don’t think to use it for magic. Pepper is a very potent magical herb, but it is also one that can be used for good or evil depending on the will of practitioner. Belonging to Mars it is often used for martial magic – both for defensive and offensive spells. Use black pepper in protection sachets around your home or on your person when you think you are being attacked.
Mix salt and pepper together and sprinkle in a circle around your land to remove and protect from evil influences. Rootworkers believe this will also prevent unwanted people from trespassing on your land whether its your mother-in-law or a nasty witch who has it in for you. For an even stronger blend, make your own witch’s salt (aka black salt) with black pepper, salt, iron scrapings (from a cauldron or cast iron pan) and charcoal. Pepper is most commonly used in folk magic for cursing and can be found in various powders, candle spells, and other recipes for causing harm. You can put in your war water or your hot foot recipes for some extra fire power.
Rosemary – (Fire/Sun)
Rosemary is a ritual herb par excellence used for just about every magical purpose under the sun including banishing, exorcism, healing, love, protection, and purification. Before our ancestors had exotic herbs and resins for incenses, they had rosemary and used it often. Rosemary can be burned instead of the standard frankincense to cleanse a space before ritual or spellwork. Plus, who needs sage when you have rosemary? Plagued by evil spirits or the evil eye? Burn some rosemary, smudging yourself and your home. Burn it also for divination, to receive visions, or for spells of love, lust or healing.
Place sachets of dried rosemary around your house for protection and under your bed to ward off nightmares. Make a wash with rosemary to cleanse your hands before performing healing work or making herbal healing remedies. Stuff a poppet full of dried rosemary for a healing spell. Sprinkle rosemary water around a sick room to promote healing. Rosemary mixes very well with evergreen needles and resins as well as juniper berries for a homemade multi-purpose incense which smells like a forest. Instead of more traditional floor washes, I like to use rosemary and lemon to cleanse my house. The moral of all this… use more rosemary!
Thyme – (Water/Venus)
We put thyme in our soups, gravies, and on meat, but the ancient Greeks burned it to purify their sacred temples. We can modify this ancient use by burning thyme as a cleansing incense before performing spells and rituals. Thyme is known to be an excellent healing herb and in folk magic it is worn, burned, or added to ritual baths for this purpose. Tuck a sprig of thyme or a sachet of dried thyme under your pillow or mattress for a restful, nightmare-free sleep and also to receive prophetic dreams or visions. Thyme is found in a Scottish fairy ointment recipe from the 17th century and it is also believed that if you wear fresh thyme you will be able to see fairies. For a gentle house cleansing ritual, dip sprigs of fresh thyme into holy water and flick them about all the corners of your house for purification and to add loving energies to your home.
Magical Breakfast Beverages
Yes, you can use your daily addiction for magic too! Coffee grounds can be read like tea leaves for divining the future as long as you don’t mind drinking gritty coffee. Coffee is also considered to be excellent for curse-breaking baths and for magical baths to help recover from an illness. Use a whole pot of freshly brewed, strong coffee for your magical baths. Fresh, ground coffee beans can also be burned for protection from nasty spirits, people, or nightmares. Freshly brewed coffee makes an excellent offering to your spirits and ancestors and leaving a cup on your altar every day is an excellent reverential practice (if they like coffee). Respect the bean, never use instant coffee for magic!
Tea – (Fire/Sun)
Reading tea leaves is an ancient, fun, and much-loved form of divination to the point that there are even special tea cups for it now (I know because I own one). Tea leaves can be burned to attract money and are an excellent addition to any incense, powders, washes, baths, charms, and sachets for money and prosperity. Drink tea ritually or add it to amulets and sachets to gain strength and courage where you’re lacking. Tea makes everything better after all. Tea is also an excellent base for love magic potions. For a bit of sneaky folk magic, female rootworkers will, on occasion, slip a personal concern of theirs into the brewing tea before feeding it to their husband to make sure he sticks around or to a would-be lover to attract them.
Dry Pantry Goods
Baking Soda is a perfect go-to staple for magical cleansing baths with the plus of being good for your skin. You can use it as the base for all of your bath blends along with salt — just add the herbs or other ingredients to meet your magical intent. If you’re a folk magician who likes to use floor washes but whose house has carpet, baking soda is your alternative. Add some essential oils or finely ground herbs to 1-2 cups of baking soda, sprinkle it evenly on your carpet, let sit for at least 15 minutes, and then vacuum to magically and physically clean your carpet.
Aside from its use as an offering, cornmeal is a traditional medium for drawing biodegradable sigils on the ground to invoke gods and spirits. Cornmeal or powdered egg shells (cascara) are used in the South and Central Americas as well as the Caribbean to create symbols and veves and the practice is currently gaining popularity in North America.
Other mediums used for this purpose include flours, grains, ashes, and red brick dust. I’ve also seen sigils made with colourful spices such as turmeric and paprika. For instructions on creating your own sigils with cornmeal and other ingredients from your pantry please read the article: Making Outdoor Sigils.
When you’re in a bind and there’s nothing else in your witch’s bag of tricks, there’s always salt. We take it for granted today, eat too much of it even, but once upon a time salt was as rare and valued as gold and armies killed for it. Salt preserves foods so they don’t rot and spoil. Our ancestors saw this and took it a step further, believing that salt would protect them from disease and evil spirits and using salt to spiritually purify everything under the sun. Attend a modern Wiccan ritual you will see them add salt to the holy water on the altar to consecrate it. Follow a rootworker home and watch them lay lines of black salt at their doors and window sills to prevent another magician from working against them.
Salt can be added to ritual baths, holy waters for purifying people or a home, protective powders, and other concoctions. Salt is especially useful for detaching unwanted spirits and ghosts from a person and is a highly regarded tool for banishing spirits. You can craft your own magical salts for different purposes by blending salts with herbs and spices from your pantry – edible or not – such as a blessing salt for holy water, black salt for protection and offensive magic (see Pepper above for a recipe), and a ritual bath salt blend to cleanse yourself before rites.
Sugar’s use in magic translates quite literally – it is used to “sweeten” things up. Sugar can be burned like incense to sweeten someone’s disposition towards you, to sweeten the energy of a home or business, or to sweeten your own sour mood. Sugar is a simple ingredient to use when performing sweetening magic on a co-worker, family member, or friend having the added bonus of helping to stop gossip as well. Sugar is also often used in spells to attract money.
Wet Pantry Goods
Honey is used in folk magic similarly to sugar – it is used to sweeten a person or situation to your favour. The most well-known use of honey in Hoodoo is the honey jar where you place a person’s personal concerns and herbs specific to your intent in a jar of honey. Often an anointed candle is lit on top of the jar to set the spell, but it’s not mandatory. The purpose is to cause the person’s tongue to only drip honey and sweetness when they speak about you and to only think good thoughts when they think of you. Of course, me being me, I usually put an actual dried tongue in the jar as well.
Honey makes an excellent and ancient offering to gods and spirits. Triple offerings of milk, honey, and water or alcohol are a common offering of the ancient world from Greece to Ireland. It can also be used as a binder and sweetener for incense blends and smoking blends. I keep a little jar of amazingly delicious honey from a sacred bee keeper on my altar and use it for kissing; a dab on one partner’s tongue leads to quite the make-out session with your lover which can get things heated up for sex magic. Why not try making herbal infused honey for magical purposes like love, prosperity, healing, or as an aphrodisiac blend?
Hot sauce can be used in magical workings to heat things up, mostly by making the spell target uncomfortable. It can be used to cause someone to quickly feel guilt and remorse, to get someone to move out or away, to make someone restless and hot-tempered until they perform a desired action, and so on. It can also be used in cursing to “burn” someone, causing trouble and strife in their life. There isn’t really a pleasant use here, so if you’re not the cursing type, hot sauce is best on your food.
We’ve all got cooking oil in our kitchens and as long as it’s not canola oil (aka genetically modified poisonous rapeseed oil) or a generic indiscernible vegetable oil, it’s fair game to use for magical purposes. The go-to oil would be olive oil due to the ancient history of the olive tree being revered as sacred. Plain olive oil can be used to substitute any magical oil for anointing candles, objects or people as well as for adding to ritual baths or holy water. Almond oil, olive oil, and sunflower oil are all associated with the fire element and the Sun making them excellent for purification and blessing. They also have a longer shelf life than speciality oils and so are perfect as bases for making your own magical oils.
To craft your own magical oils, add herbs and/or spices to some oil and place in a sealed jar in the sun (a window sill is good) with a paper bag or towel around the jar to protect it from direct sunlight and leave to infuse for a couple of weeks or a month to create a solarized oil. Or add your herbs etc to the oil in a double boiler or crock pot and gently heat for 2-3 hours, stirring every half hour. Always strain your magical oils before use — as pretty as floaty herb bits can look, they cause the oil to go rancid well before it should.
The little bottle of vanilla extract in your cupboard is good for more than just baking. Belonging to the water element and Venus, vanilla is a perfect ingredient for love and lust magic. Add a little to ritual baths to attract or feel love, use it as a base for magical colognes and sprays, add it to your floor wash, burn it in a diffuser to scent your home, or use it to anoint magical sachets, candles, etc for love spells. Vanilla sugar in the house is believed to lead to loving energies between those in your home so why not make some by adding a vanilla bean to a jar of sugar?
Whether you have white vinegar, malt vinegar, wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar in your pantry, it can be used for magic just the same. Vinegar is used in mild curses to sour situations or people’s dispositions as well as cause disagreements and fighting. Maybe you hate your country’s leader or just your boss, either way a vinegar jar spell would help to sour other people’s opinions towards them and also curse them depending on how far you went with the spell. When you add protective herbs to vinegar it can be used defensively instead by confusing your enemies and causing them to fight each other instead of picking on you; four thieves vinegar is one such recipe.
Yes, water. How we take it for granted! Some of you probably keep bottles of spring water for emergencies or camping in your cupboards. Because of its cleansing properties, spring water is one of the best waters for making holy water and also for adding to magical and ritual baths. It also makes a good offering for your altar. If it’s there, use it, but I don’t advocate buying bottled water just for magical purposes – why not collect it instead? Spring water, creek water, river water, and sea water are the best to use for magic. Tap water works just fine in a pinch, especially if let to sit overnight so the chlorine and other not-so-fun bits evaporate before you use it for magic.
Digging Through the Veggie Bin
Garlic – (Fire/Mars)
Aside from its cool factor of being sacred to Hekate and left as offerings for her at altars and crossroads, garlic is THE protection herb. Just having garlic in your house alone is believed to protect from robbery, disease, foul weather, ghosts, evil spirits, the evil eye, and magical attack. When carried on your person it is used to protect from monsters, storms, and physical or magical attack. I recommend using the skins for magical sachets and amulets as they smell much less than the fresh cloves. You can also used the dried, powdered garlic in your spice rack.
If you are under magical attack or dealing with a nasty ghost, you can line the bottom of your window sills and doorways with powdered garlic or cut open a fresh clove and rub it on all the entrances to your house. This is also believed to keep out thieves and is an excellent practice to incorporate into a house protection ritual. Hang braids of fresh garlic by the door and nothing’s getting in that you don’t invite and any witches working against you won’t have much luck.
In other bits of folk magic, garlic skins are burned indoors to keep money in your home, to remove negativity from your home (especially when mixed with onion skins), and to help alleviate depression and the evil eye. Whenever you burn something as seriously banishing as garlic in your home, remember to burn a gentle incense afterwards – whether it’s smudge or your favourite resin or herb. If you think you have the evil eye or are under magical attack, tuck a clove of garlic under your bed and also take a ritual bath with a garlic tea – boil nine cloves in water on the stove, strain, and pour into the bath. Folk healers use garlic to remove illness by rubbing a fresh clove on a wound or the body where the issue is, and then discarding it in running water or burying it at a crossroad.
Ginger – (Fire/Mars)
Ginger is another “heat things up” ingredient, especially for money and love spells. You can make a simple ginger oil by infusing fresh or dried ginger into whatever oil you have in the pantry and then using it to anoint your wallet, debit, and credit cards or, alternately, love candles and charms. As ginger is believed to ensure the success of spells, you could use it as an oil or incense for just about any working you do — just make sure the main component you use is one that matches the intent of your spell — ginger’s just the helper.
Lemon – (Water/Moon)
We all either have some fresh lemons on the counter or a bottle of lemon juice in the fridge. Lemons are incredibly purifying and excellent for cleansing your home or yourself. It is used as a remedy for the evil eye due to its eye-like form, though garlic and onion are stronger for this purpose. Add lemon to floor washes, use fresh lemon juice to clean and deodorize your cutting boards, burn lemon peel in your home, or even make a room spray or sprinkle with lemon essential oil and water or lemon peel soaked in vodka. Lemons also aid in encouraging love and friendship. Dried lemon peel can be added to love sachets, incenses, and bath blends. Lemons can also be used to cleanse yourself before a full moon rite.
Lemons are hung in various countries as protective charms. Modern folk magicians stick a lemon with colourful pins (but no black ones) and hang it in the house to bring blessings. The English hang a lemon inside the chimney of a fireplace for blessing and protection. Sicilians stab a fresh lemon with nine iron nails wound with red thread and hang it by the front door to ward off the evil eye.
Onion – (Fire/Mars)
The ancient Egyptians worshipped onions as gods and always planted them in their gardens. Whether your gods are in your garden or the veggie bin of your kitchen, they have many magical uses. Cut an onion in half and put it under your sink to absorb any negativity in your home or nastiness sent your way and replace every week or two — you’ll be surprised how much it absorbs and how quickly it shrivels. Prick a whole fresh onion with black headed pins and place on a window sill to protect from the evil eye and magical attack. Or, simply braid together onions from your garden and hang them in your kitchen or over your pantry door to protect your home.
Folk healers use onions just like garlic cloves – cut them in half and rub on the afflicted area and then discard. The onion becomes as a scapegoat for the illness. Also, like garlic, onion skins are never thrown out, but burned to attract and keep money. The skins can also be burned for protection and banishing and, when finely ground, can be added to incense blends. In Hungary, onion skins are burned during childbirth to protect the mother and baby who are believed to be most susceptible to the evil eye and evil spirits at this time. In European folk magic, knives and swords are consecrated by running the blades over the juices of a freshly halved onion – why not use an onion to bless and cleanse your ritual knives before and after use?
And so ends our adventure through the pantry. I hope that by learning the magical history and uses of its contents, you can put them to good use in your magic and rituals. Any time you’re feeling the spiritual blahs grab an ingredient or two from the kitchen and get your “witch” on to get back your magical mojo. There’s nothing like a little hands-on magic to get your passion back for the work.
- Cunningham, Scott. Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs. Llewellyn, 1985.
- Mickaharic, Draja. A Century of Spells. Red Wheel Weiser, 1990.
- Mickaharic, Draja. Spiritual Cleansing: A Handbook of Psychic Protection. Weiser, 1982.
- Pennacchio, M., Jefferson, L.V., & Havens, K. Uses and Abuses of Plant-Derived Smoke: Its Ethnobotany as a Hallucinogen, Perfume, Incense, and Medicine. Oxford University Press, 2010.
- Yronwode, Cat. Hoodoo Herb and Root Magic. Lucky Mojo, 2002.
© 2013 Sarah Anne Lawless
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