Six Herbs for Spirit Work

Six Herbs for Spirit Work

These herbs are easy to find for most and can be bought, foraged, or grown. Maybe you are trying to learn ways to work with spirits or maybe you are looking to incorporate plants into the spirit work you’re already a badass at. We all have our own favourite go-to herbs for specific purposes, here is my top six list of botanicals to aid in spirit work– not including ones specifically for working with the ancestors (which would need another list!). There are other herbs that work just as well, but with these lovelies I can just walk outside my front door and harvest, minus the tobacco which I can get from a local farmer or from the nearby Pikwakanagan reserve.

Dandelion roots

1. Dandelion

Taraxacum officinale

The forager’s friend, but also the witch’s friend, dandelion is used in folk magic to summon spirits. Although most would use it to summon the spirits of the dead, I believe it can be used to call all number of spirits. Use the root to summon chthonic spirits, the leaves to summon nature spirits and spirits of the middle realm, and the flowers and seeds to summon gods, spirits of the sky, and the heavens. Make a wish out loud and blow the seed fluff off a dandelion head. Maybe the spirits will hear you and answer your prayers, each seed that grows furthering the chance your wish will come true.

Dandelion is used to enhance psychic ability– especially divinatory prowess. Use dandelion before you read tarot cards, cast runes, practice seidr, seership, or wrap yourself in a bear hide to have prophetic dreams. Ingest dandelion concoctions or burn dried dandelion before you speak with your familiar spirits whether they be animal, plant, or ancestral. Sunny dandelion, beloved by bees, can aid us in connecting with nature, the earth, and her denizens. Dandelion is bitter, digestive, blood-cleansing, detoxifying the liver, and acting as a tonic for your whole system. Besides being good for you and full of vitamins, nutrients, and medicine, it can help bring us closer to our gods and our familiar spirits.

Ideas: add the powdered root or dried flowers and leaves to smoking blends or teas, infuse the petals in honey to eat by the spoonful, batter and fry whole flowers as fritters, make a tincture from the whole plant when it’s not flowering, use the roasted root as a coffee substitute with cream and brown sugar, stuff fetiches and poppets with dandelion fluff, or lastly, ritually consecrate a dandelion root into an fetiche used to act as a go-between for you and spirits.

Dandelion Root Elixir Recipe

This is pretty much medicinal chocolate-tasting booze that gets better with age. You’ll want to make a lot of it! If you feel fancy try adding spices too, like a cinnamon stick, 3-5 cardamom pods, or a vanilla bean.

125 ml roasted dandelion root
750 ml good brandy
250 ml dandelion honey

Place all ingredients in a 1 litre canning jar, put on the lid, and then shake it up. Give it a shake every day for 2 weeks. Strain through cheesecloth or a coffee filter and pour into a clean canning jar. Allow to settle for three days to a month and then rack the clear liquid off of any bottom sludge (I use a turkey baster to slowly remove the elixir without disturbing the sludge). Bottle and take 1-3 droppers full as needed. This recipe makes for excellent digestive bitters when taken before meals. It’s also good in coffee, black tea, dandelion coffee, or in cocktails involving whisky, bourbon, brandy, coffee and cream.

Common Mallow

2. Mallow

Althaea officinalis – Malva Neglecta

Mallows are fairly common in the wild. We often step on them or pull them out of walkways and gardens as a weed without even realizing it. Common mallow grows all over my parents’ farm and they never noticed until I pointed out how prevalent it is. To me, mallow is THE herb for attracting benevolent spirits and grounding them to our realm for better communication. Having a random jar of marshmallow root on your altar or shine is always a good idea. It’s a great herb to tuck into spirit houses, spirit vessels, skulls, and medicine bundles. Within the practice of folk magic the humble mallow is considered a potent exorcism herb and is used to banish spirits, prevent possession, and protect a person from curses. The best ways to use mallow is to make a cold infusion steeped overnight with the fresh roots, or to make an ointment from the dried leaves.

Ideas: crown yourself in mallow like a flower crown when performing outdoor rituals invoking the genius loci, cook with mallow leaves for your sacred feasts, smoke the dried leaves, make a syrup or cordial with the roots, add one large dried root to your medicine bag or ritual kit, or use the flowers to decorate spirit food offerings.

Althea Ointment Recipe

mallow leaves
vegetable oil
beeswax
rosemary essential oil

Pick a big fluffy bundle of mallow leaves and hang to dry for a week to remove moisture. Pack the dried leaves into a 500ml canning jar and pour enough oil over top to completely cover the plant material– olive, sunflower, grapeseed, almond, and jojoba oil are all great choices. Allow to infuse in a dark cupboard for 1-3 months. Strain and measure the oil infusion. Pour into a double boiler (a stainless steel bowl over a pot of water on low heat) and add 30 g (1 oz) of beeswax per 250 ml of the oil infusion. Right before you pour it into jars add 15 drops of rosemary essential oil as a natural preservative and for its protective properties.

Anoint yourself for protection and to summon spirits before performing trancework, soul-flight, shape-shifting, necromancy, and other rites involving spirit work. In your mundane life it can be used to help heal wounds, sores, inflammation, bruising, and angry-hot-itchy skin issues.

Poplar or Aspen buds

3. Poplar Buds

Populus – Populus balsamifera – Populus trichocarpa – Populus tremuloides

Not everyone loves the smell of the sticky sweet buds from trees in the poplar family, sometimes called balm of gilead, but I think it is the most divine perfume; the distilled essence of spring. The essential oil is worth more than gold, and its medicinal properties are priceless. When dried, ground, and burned the buds make a very good substitute for myrrh resin which can be used for smudging, purification, blessing, and consecration. The uses of poplar buds in folk magic are many, and usually centered around love magic, but the applications that matter the most to me are their uses for achieving soul flight and their ability to aid in the physical manifestation of spirits. Poplar is one of the many plants in the magical gardens of Hekate and Artemis according to myth. It was considered a funerary tree by the ancient Greeks meaning they likely used it as wood to burn offerings for the dead, to cremate the dead, and the branches in ceremonies to honour the dead.

Ideas: use the branches to decorate your altar or ritual space, make a crown from a thin branch to wear during ritual, infuse freshly harvested poplar buds in oil for a powerfully perfumed anointing oil, carry the buds in your medicine bundle, perform a steam inhalation to soothe the throat and lungs and absorb its magical powers before ritual, or add it to flying ointment recipes, fairy ointment recipes, and spirit summoning incense blends.

Incense Recipe

dried poplar buds
pine or fir resin
dried rosemary

Using equal parts of these three herbs, grind together with a mortar and pestle or in a coffee grinder (clean afterward with rubbing alcohol and salt). Allow to age for 1-3 weeks before use so the fragrances have time to mingle. Burn on self lighting charcoal disks, a coal from a fire, tin foil on a wood stove, or in an electic incense burner. Use when invoking/evoking spirits for any reason: communion, offering, soul flight, shapeshifting, divination… This incense is also very protective and will keep malevolent spirits from ruining your best magical plans.

Rowan - Mountain Ash

4. Rowan

Sorbus aucuparia

I am definitely one of the many people on the rowan bandwagon. It has been used for magic and held very sacred for so many hundreds if not thousands of years that I believe it is extra powerful just for how long it has been used by humans for the same magical purposes over and over again. Instead of looking for largely non existent unbroken magical traditions, it’s much better to use your time seeking out the unbroken living traditions of the magical uses of sacred plants. Rowan adds power to any magic or rites, it turns the amp up to 11 (yes, I’m making a Spinal Tap reference). It protects from possession and attachment, it gives control over possession making it useful for hedgecrossing and shapeshifting. In folklore and old stories Rowan protects from spirits and allows one to have sway over spirits. In an old Irish tale a woman stands at a grave with a rowan distaff and summons a spirit. With the staff she compels the spirit not to lie to her and then compels it back into the grave where it belongs when she is done her questioning.

If you have troublesome pixies, unwanted ghosts, or find yourself dealing with dishonest or dangerous spirits, rowan will have your back. The two most traditional charms are the cross of rowan wood and unknotted red wool, hung in the house or stitched into one’s clothing, and the necklace of strung rowan berries. Wearable rowan is the best charm when you are trying to avoid pixies and ghosties in the wild wood. Did you know many of the Icelandic magical staves from the Middle Ages were carved out of rowan wood? The Norse were known for making endless magical tailsmans and runestaves out of rowan, considering it incredibly sacred, powerful, and protective.

Ideas: Carve yourself a rowan wand, a rowan staff, rowan crosses, a rowan berry necklace, make yourself a rowan flower crown in the spring or a berry crown in the fall, bake the berries into bread and apple pie, and brew cider or mead with them. If ingesting rowan berries note that they must be fermented or cooked to be safe for eating.

Rowanberry Jelly Recipe

ripe rowan berries
sugar
water

I can’t give better or more thorough instruction than this recipe by The Homemade Company. Rowan berries are bitter so don’t expect the jelly to be sweet. It’s best served with meats and cheeses. I need to try it with venison. If you harvest the berries after a few frosts they are supposedly sweeter or you can freeze them before processing into jelly. Let the jelly age a month to mellow the bitterness before eating – don’t give it to guests right away!

Hypericum perforatum

5. St John’s Wort

Hypericum perforatum

If you have some serious boundary issues with unwelcome spirits in your home or on your property, St. John’s Wort is your rescuer. Simple talismans of red cloth stuffed with st john’s wort can be hung above the front door and tucked under your mattress to protect from dark fairies, ghosts, malevolent spirits, and a witch’s curse. It is a great house cleansing herb. Make your own holy water with spring water, st. john’s wort and salt and sprinkle the water in every room of your house, every doorway, window, mirror, water pipe, ventilation duct (stove hood, dryer vent, stove pipe)… while you whisper or shout Valiente’s “around and around, throughout and about, the good come in and the ill keep out.” I make an equal armed cross too and recite a charm of exorcism, protection, and the sealing of doorways. You are essentially kicking all the unwanted spirits out of your house and then locking all the “doors” with the holy water and the st. john’s wort sachets act as the locks.

For super duper protection from spirits: hang by your front door a red sachet of st. john’s wort on a rowan cross woven with red thread with no knots tied in the weaving. Sprinkle holy water on the talisman every dark moon to keep it cleansed and it its best working order.

Ideas: st. john’s wort can be used in sachets, herbal holy waters, burnt as a non fragrant smudge, made into an oil for medicine or magical anointing, blended with mint and honey for a tea.

St. John’s Wort Oil Recipe

St. John’s Wort flowers
oil (olive, grapeseed, sunflower, jojoba)

Harvest st. john’s wort flowers in the early morning, spreading them out, dehydrate or dry them. Stuff as many as you can into a canning jar and top it up with oil so that all the plant material is covered. Put on the lid and leave in a south facing window for 3 weeks until the oil turns red. Strain and bottle the oil. Use for anointing or for medicine to help heal cuts, burns, bruises, and muscle pain. It is a great multi-purpose addition to your home’s first aid kit and its always good to have some of the oil on hand to make a quick ointment from.

tobacco

6. Tobacco

Nicotiana tabacum – Nicotiana rustica

Tobacco is not just cigarettes, smoke, and carcinogens. Tobacco is a beautiful plant with beautifully scented flowers which has been held very sacred by the Native peoples of North and South America for longer than we likely have written record of. In my mind, the abuse and disrespect of this sacred herb is the source of its harm.  Tobacco is spirit food, it is god food. The ichor that fuels the gods but kills the mortals. It is why we are so easily addicted to it; we eat smoke instead of food and think we are full, but it is the invisible spirits circled around us who are feasting. You smoke it for the spirits to feed on, not for yourself. Good tobacco, the good stuff, is like a kick in the head, it can hurt and you may vomit if you inhale too much.

It is left as an offering at altars, shrines, in earth-dug offering pits, and is given by many cultures as a gift of respect to elders, leaders, healers, shamans, and wise men and women. Tobacco is a potent tool for working with the dead. A ritual supply of cigars, wormwood, and yew would serve you well. It is smoked during ceremonies to attract spirits, to nourish them, to ground them in our realm that we may speak with them and that they may be present for our rites. The nourishment of the thick smoke gives them power. Do not feed spirits if you do not know their intent, do not give power to those who would do you harm. After you have created your sacred space and set up your protections, then burn or smoke tobacco in offering to the spirits and to each other in hospitality and kinship.

Tobacco Reversal Smudge

tobacco
dried wild fern leaf

Like its sister Datura, Tobacco is a potent herb for breaking curses. Mix equal parts of dried tobacco leaf and fern leaf together. Burn it on a fire or charcoal and smudge yourself to break a curse and reverse any spells back to the sender.

Join the discussion 13 Comments

  • Very nice post. For Rowan berry jam you should add apples, that takes away some of the bitterness. I include the recipe in my book SCOTTISH HERBS AND FAIRY LORE (Pendraig Publishing). Highlanders also make a syrup of Rowan berries, honey and apples for colds, sore throat, bronchitis, etc.

    • Sarah says:

      I love to mix rowan berries with crab apples! If I am able to replace my ancient dead rowan tree with a new one next spring I hope to mix the berries with all the different crab apples in my yard and make a jelly and cyser mead.

  • Theresa Laviolette says:

    Sarah, thank you so much for this beautiful and informative blog, I always learn so much from you and am always inspired. There is mallow, both common and marsh growing in the yard and I never really knew what to do with it, other than using the marshmallow for chest complaints. Do you have any recommendations for using the rowan flowers? Many thanks!

    • Sarah says:

      The scent of rowan flowers is unpleasant to a lot of people, so there aren’t a lot of recipes out there. It’s a bit like public washroom deodorizer with a whiff of farts underneath. They can be prepared the same way as elderflowers if you dare.

  • Maria says:

    Hi Sarah, I love this blog – it opens up a whole new reality – thank you for sharing your wisdom xx

  • Thank you for the very informative article. It is refreshing to see details instead of vague references.

  • Mercy says:

    this is a lovely article, :) my step father lives in golden lake right by the entrance to the pikwakanagan reservation :) I’ve dance the powwow there it is a very lovely area there :)

  • Ly says:

    Hi Sarah. I’m wondering if you have thoughts on the use of buds from Populus grandidentata or P. deltoides? Cheers, Thanks!

    • Sarah says:

      If the buds are sticky and have the tell-tale fragrance, I say go for it. Late winter, early spring is the best time to go looking for new buds.

  • Afshin says:

    Thank you for such a pleasant and informative post Sarah! :)

  • Cicada says:

    Thanks once more for your dedication to teaching others!

  • Riezen says:

    Delightful. It means so much more to be able to utilize what grows close to you, Nature puts it there for a reason. I love noting what is in abundance from year to year as it always varies – that is my clue as to what I will need in the upcoming Seasons.

  • Heather says:

    I love everything that you make and write about. I wish I could mentor with you!