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Herbs have been used medicinally and magically in many different cultures and ages. Indeed the two functions ran parallel until the seventeenth century and in the modern world they are moving closer again. The first evidence of herbs for magical purposes was discovered by an American anthropologist in 1960 at a 60,000-year-old Neanderthal burial site in a cave in the Zagros mountains of Iraq. Analysis of the soil in the grave around the human bones revealed large quantities of eight species of plant pollen, including yarrow and groundsel. It seems likely that the body was buried with herbs to protect and empower the person after death.

Healing herbs have been used for at least four and a half thousand years in China and the Great Herbal, the first herbal healing book attributed to the Chinese Red Emperor Shen Nung around 2,400BC, forms a basis for Chinese medicine today.

In western medicine, the earliest written records detailing the use of herbs in the treatment of illness are the Mesopotamian clay tablet writings and the Egyptian papyri. About 2000 B.C., King Assurbanipal of Sumeria ordered the compilation of the first known western medical book containing 250 herbal drugs. The Ancient Egyptian Ebers Papyrus, was written around 1500 BC and contains 876 prescriptions made up of more than 500 different substances, including many herbs. The Mother Goddess Isis was believed to endow all medicinal knowledge, based on herb lore.

In Rome, Dioscorides a Greek born in Cilicia, in the 1st century AD, who served in the army of Nero, wrote De Materia Medica which contained text contains 950 curative substances, of which 600 are plant products and the rest are of animal or mineral origin. Each entry consists of a drawing, a description of the plant, an account of its medicinal qualities and method of preparation, as well as possible side effects.

But herbalism has always primarily been the medicine and magic of ordinary people. Though in western Europe, the witch burnings from the fourteenth to the seventeenth centuries, meant that many village wise-women died with the resulting loss of what had been mainly an oral herbal tradition, in remote areas of Wales, Ireland, and Brittany, secret remedies have survived and are still handed down through the generations (some suggest they go back as far as ancient Druidic magical lore).

Since the late 1950s the US National Cancer Institute has tested more than 30,000 plants and found that nearly 10 per cent had positive results in anti-tumour tests. About one-quarter of the prescription drugs dispensed by community pharmacies in the United States contain at least one active ingredient derived from plant material.

The most famous herbal book is Culpeper’s Complete Herbal written by Nicholas Culpeper, the seventeenth century astrologer, physician and ardent Parliamentarian. It is still on sale and contains magic-herbal remedies that are effective today. Culpepper gives planetary associations for most herbs.

Herb Magic

Herbs have been used in rituals and divination by men and women throughout the centuries. Infused herbs were read like tea leaves before 1885 when tea from India and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) reached England in any quantity. Pots of divinatory herbs, especially parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme were assigned the names of different lovers to see which grew fastest and strongest. Herbs were also placed in sachets which were pinned on undergarments or placed under pillows for love, prosperity or happiness; poppets or cloth dolls were filled with rosemary to attract lovers. Crushed lavender was added to a tin tub when young maidens soaked in front of the fire in Victorian times before a love tryst; fennel infusions were drunk as teas to give courage; thyme was placed under pillows for prophetic dreams and to improve memory; peppermint was added to hot water for mopping floors, thereby removing negativity.

These herbs are still used in modern spell-casting and as interest in herbs has become widespread, the more fragrant in the form of scented candles, bath essences or pot pourri find a place in many homes. The following list gives the most common herbs and spices that have retained magical significance.

Herbs for magical empowerment and protection


Money, love, protection, psychic powers, herb of Lammas (beginning of August, first harvest)


Money, luck, healing


Banishes hostility from others, protection, healing, visions. Herb of Candelmas, beginning of February and Beltane, May Day, the old Celtic summer

Balm, Lemon

Love, success, healing


Love, exorcism, wealth, astral flying. Conquers fear of flying in the real world. One of traditional herbs of Candelmas


Protection, psychic powers, healing, purification, strength and endurance. One of traditional herbs of Candlemas and Mid winter Solstice


Protection against accidents or illness, especially at sea, sea rituals, wind rituals, action, money, psychic powers


Protection against negativity, healing. Love and sex magic, magical cure or coughs, hung around necks of babies in southern US


Protection, passion, health, anti-theft, mental powers

Cascara Sagrada

Legal matters, money, protection


Cat magic, love, beauty, happiness in home, fertility charm


Money, quiet sleep, affection and family


Spirituality, success, healing, powers, psychic powers, money, love and passion


Money, protection, prophetic dreams, especially about love, peaceful sleep, good health


Protection, banishing negativity, love, money


Protection, money, love, fidelity, banishing negativity, success

Cohosh, black

Love, courage, protection, potency


Courage, love, the lion’s herb, retrieves lost love


Safety during travel, money


Love, health, healing


Protection, fidelity, exorcism


Protection, keeping home safe from enemies and those who have envy in their hearts; also for money, passion, luck

Dittany of Crete

Contact with other dimensions, astral projection


Strengthening rituals and personal intuitive powers


Protection, courage, purification.


Protection, healing, banishing negativity, passion, security from thieves


Love, passion, money, success, power


Love, wishes, healing, beauty, protection, passion, increases male sexual potency. Often used as a substitute for mandrake root which is difficult to obtain


Money, divination, finding buried treasure, charm against rheumatism

Grass, sweet

Protection, wisdom. Purification, psychic awareness


Banishing negativity, prophetic dreams, healing, wealth, invisibility in potentially threatening situations


Protection, anti-theft, love, banishing negativity. Health, protects against accidents; increases male potency


Love, protection, especially of children quiet sleep, long life, purification, happiness and peace


Repels spite, protection against snakes, passion, increases psychic awareness

Lucky Hand Root

Employment, luck, protection, money, safe travel


Beauty, love


Protection, love, happiness, health, money


Love, divination, peace, happiness, gathered at Midsummer and associated with the Summer Solstice


Money, love, increasing sexual desire, healing, banishing malevolence, protection especially while travelling


Money, love, magical associated with phases of the moon


Strength, psychic powers, protection, prophetic dreams, healing, astral projection


Protection, strength


Courage, protection, health, love and love divination, banishes nightmares and malevolence, especially popular in India and parts of the US


Fertility, protection, increases mental powers


Love, protection, divination, passion. Purification


Strength, protection, peace


Protection, banishing malevolence, overcomes inertia and gives focus, positive anger for change


Purification, energy, love, healing, increases psychic powers




Protection. Fairy magic and the ability to see fairies


Love, passion, increases mental powers, banishes negativity and depression, nightmares; also for purification, healing, quiet sleep, preserves youthfulness


Healing, protects against illnesses of all kinds and speeds recovery from surgery or wounds’ increases mental powers, love enchantment; banishes regrets and redundant guilt or anger


Long life, wisdom, protection, grants; wishes, improves memory ; a Halloween, Samhain, herb, the beginning of the Celtic winter

St.Johns Wort

Health, power, protection, strength, love and fertility, love divination, happiness; gathered on Midsummer Eve


Protection, healing, banishes negativity, spirituality, contact with guardian angels, Higher Self; a herb for Lammas, the festival at the beginning of August celebrating the first corn harvest

Slippery Elm

Prevents gossip and malice


Health, long life,, invisibility against potential danger; a herb of the spring equinox


Health, healing, prophetic dreams, increases psychic powers; improves memory, love and love divination, purification, courage




Love and love divination, quiet sleep, purification, protection against outer hostility, inner fears and despair


Love, passion, increases mental powers


Love, protection, transforms enemies into friends. Purification, peace, money, prophecy, preserves youthfulness, peaceful sleep, healing. gathered at midsummer or when Sirius is in the ascendant


Love, breaks a run of bad luck, money, anti-theft, protects against all negativity

Witch Hazel

Mends broken hearts and relationships, finds buried treasure and underground streams, protection


Courage, love, psychic powers, divination, banishes negativity; brought into house at Midsummer for protection against illness and domestic strife

Yellow Evening Primrose

Finding what is lost

Yerba Mate

Fidelity, love, passion


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