Herbs of the Field: A Witch’s Quick-Guide to Wildcrafting

When Ankie was but a wee sprite, there were woods and fields behind her house, and many hours (in all seasons) were spent wandering, observing and gathering. Early spring saw pussy-willows by the banks of the sandy stream.  Summer months brought bouquets of wild flowers for Grandma Ankh, and tart wild strawberries,  raspberries, low bush blueberries. Autumn meant acorns and bittersweet. Winter was the time for evergreens,  and tracking prints in the snow. Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it?  Of course, those of you who read between the lines will understand from this that girl-Ankh was often lonely and bored – but that’s a story for a dark and stormy night not a warm June afternoon.

Ankhie has never had much talent for gardening, but she could always forage with the best of them. And there are those who believe that when it comes to witchy-herbs and such, wild varieties have greater magical potency. So in the spirit of  wondrous, weedy wastes, I offer you this excerpt from Elizabeth Pepper’s  Witches All – A Treasury From Past Editions of the Witches’ Almanac:

OF THE FIELD

Certain herbs acquire greater power under stress and seem to thrive in the garden no one tends – the wild. Those listed below are all alien plants, garden escapees, now masquerading as wildflowers or weeds. These ancient specimens perennially grace roadsides, railroad tracks, old meadows, vacant lots, swamps, woods, pine barrens and other waste places. You need only collect the smallest bouquets from most and a dozen or so leaves from  the larger variety of herbs. Pleasant and rewarding, the quest is known from olden days as “wildcrafting.”

Broom (Cytisus scoparius): A sprig of yellow flowers in a soldier’s cap lent courage in battle. The herb blooms in sandy soil from May through June. Wave a stalk in the air to raise a wind.

Clover (Trifolium pratense): Magic often favors a humble site and common clover is a case in point. Its three-leaf form is linked with the goddess Hecate. Called “trefoil” in old herbals that recommend its use in love charms. The plant blooms red-purple from May to September.

Fumitory (Fumaria officinalis): The gray-green foliage looks like smoke rising from the earth, and smoke from burning dried and crumbled fumitory herb purifies an atmosphere for magical work. Rose flowers with purple tips bloom from May to August.

Mullein (Verbascum thapsus): From June to September many roadsides are brightened by the presence of the large yellow-flowered plant once called “The Hag’s Taper.” Collect its flannel-textured leaves to dry and beat to a powder. Use as a substitute for “graveyard dust,” often required for certain spells.

Orpine (Sedum telephium): Orpine’s folk name is “Midsummer Men.” A maiden with romance on her mind was advised to collect a single pink blossom of orpine in silence and sleep with it beneath her pillow in order to dream of the man who would someday win her heart. The herb can be found during August and September in once-cultivated fields or along roadways.

St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum): This sacred herb adorned with yellow flowers blooms from June to September. Its primary use in witchcraft is to strengthen willpower and protect its bearer from harm.

Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare): Its stalks are topped with bright golden  buttons and its fernlike leaves emit a strong pleasant smell. The dried flowerheads and seeds wrapped in tissue paper guard treasured possessions. tansy blooms from July to September.

Vervain (Verbena officinalis): The plant held sacred by the most diverse European cultures is quite modest to the eye. Its spikes of tiny lilac flowers with five petals come to bloom from June to October.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium): Yarrow is in evidence from June to August. A tight cluster of tiny dull white petals forms the flat flowerhead. Its aromatic leaves are fernlike. Yarrow is primarily a divinatory herb and often added to incense for that purpose. The dried, powdered flowers and leaves of the plant are part of many love charms.

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