The Witching Herbs: 13 Essential Plants and Herbs for Your Magical Garden

The Witching Herbs: 13 Essential Plants and Herbs for Your Magical Garden

by Harold Roth


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781578635993
Publisher: Red Wheel/Weiser
Publication date: 03/01/2017
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 574,870
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Harold Roth is among the foremost authorities on plants within the modern occult community. For the past 15 years, he has owned and operated Alchemy Works, an online store focused on herb magic, where he crafts and sells incense, potions, and magical oils. The Witching Herbs has been in the works for a decade and is eagerly anticipated. Visit him at

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The Witching Herbs

13 Essential Plants and Herbs for Your Magical Garden

By Harold Roth

Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC

Copyright © 2017 Harold Roth
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-63341-034-3



The closest we've come to successfully linking the magical and material worlds in the past is through the Doctrine of Signatures. The Doctrine of Signatures is an ancient way of looking at plants that goes back at least as far as Plato, although in its simplest form, in Western botanical medicine, it was most developed by Jacob Boehme in the 1600s and by William Cole in The Art of Simpling (1656). It provided a direct link between the material and the magical, and magic workers of the past were familiar with it, as it was a prevalent idea in medieval society.


The primitive version of the Doctrine of Signatures most frequently bandied about is that a specific plant part signifies its medicinal use by its resemblance to the body part it treats — the classic example being lungwort, which has spots on its leaves that resemble the holes of the bronchial tubes in the lungs.

The true Doctrine of Signatures is not as mechanical as that, however. The alchemist Paracelsus (1493–1541) extended the doctrine from plants to people, other animals, celestial objects like the moon, and features of the landscape like rivers. He wrote that any natural object with lines, veins, wrinkles, or colors can be interpreted as having meaning and can tell us something about its nature. He considered that the Archeus, the lowest aspect of the astral plane that pervades all things, created signs in everything and argued that the art of recognizing signatures (which he extended to divinatory methods like palmistry, geomancy, hydromancy, pyromancy, and so on) in nature is a part of astronomy. Perhaps that was true for medieval astronomers, who were more mages than scientists, but the art of reading signatures has been and continues to be the stock in trade for many magic workers today.

Paracelsus warned that these signs could appear in a confusing mix, which he likened to a council meeting where everyone wants to have their way and the resolutions adopted end up being foolish. As an example, a plant may have thorns (Mars) but also lush, sweetly scented flowers (Venus). It may be a perennial, which tends to indicate that it works in the long term (Saturn). It may like to grow in sun (solar), but with cool, wet feet (lunar). It may have small, hard fruits (Jupiter) and a dill-like smell (Mercury). A wise person knows how to sift through all these competing signs to choose which part of the plant is most apt for the situation at hand. So we must be careful when we make use of signatures to determine which of them is most appropriate, most "true" for our purpose.

This is precisely the point that those who mock the Doctrine of Signatures miss — anything can contain within itself multiple signatures. It is the skill of the interpreter that determines whether the plant part indicated is usable in a particular situation or not. Our power here lies in the ability to go through all the signatures of any plant and find the one that is the most fitting for the work involved. That ability to sift and sort through a variety of information about a plant is part of the magic practitioner's job.

Planetary Rulership and Tables of Correspondence

Today, practitioners of magic have come to rely, perhaps a bit too much, on tables of correspondence when dealing with plants. It is true that the characteristics of planetary rulership that are always a part of tables of correspondence tend to cross cultural boundaries in a way few other indicators do. People of all cultures all over the world and in every era have been able to see the planets. Many cultures have assigned values to them, and often these values are surprisingly similar. This, to my mind, points out an underlying verification of planetary characteristics.

Do these characteristics or this energy have anything to do with the planets themselves? I honestly don't think that matters. It's something we can chat about while sitting on the porch on a summer night, but otherwise ...? What matters in my experience is that these characteristics identify particular types of energy streams that we can grasp and make use of in magical operations.

Tables can be very helpful when you are starting out in magic, because they give you a sense of a general tendency — for instance, why a particular plant is associated with Mars and is therefore good for protection. But you have to be able to think for yourself and not be dependent on planetary tables of correspondence. You should be able to look at any plant — whether or not it is included in a table or even established in magical lore — and determine by examining its appearance and behavior which planet rules it. From there, you can hypothesize about which parts of the plant are good for which magical task, knowing that each part and method of preparation will yield different results.

Knowledge that has been handed down, whether by tradition or in books, is only a foundation. The superstructure of knowledge is built on this foundation by folks working individually and directly with the natural world, concluding and practicing based on that knowledge, and building more on their own conclusions in turn. In other words, the book of magic is written by each individual and is a combination of lore and that person's own experience. I think that, when we look at some common practices in magic, we see evidence of this type of building of a personal magical system in items like a magical journal, or Book of Shadows, or whatever we want to call it. These have become somewhat corrupted in our society, as some people simply copy spells from others. On a deeper level, however, I think these records represent a personal body of magic built upon a blend of received lore and lived experience in the garden and with the spirits. What I want this book to do for you is to show you how you can build on what you already know about the witching herbs from your reading or from tradition by getting you out there in the garden and observing and working to contact plant spirits. By doing this, you create your own personal magic that works best for you in the here and now. That is real magical power, in my opinion.

Where to begin, then?


The Doctrine of Signatures can be extremely helpful, but I believe that we can take it much further in order to get closer to understanding the spirit of a plant. We can look at the details and patterns of the plant in order to arrive at a deep understanding of the plant spirit. This approach assumes that everything about a plant means something — and probably more than one thing. Everything about a plant — the shape and color and smell of its flowers, how the leaves grasp the stalk, how it goes about reproducing itself and spreading its children, where it likes to grow, how it behaves with other plants, how it responds to animals — has meaning for the magic of that plant and is a signifier of the plant spirit's identity. These attributes are signatures of the plant's spirit and its magical abilities.

This kind of interpretation goes back to the interpretation of sacred texts in ancient times. Just as ancient scholars looked at a holy text on the level of individual words in order to tease out information about the divine spirit that inspired the text, so we can "read" a plant to discover a path to its magic and spirit. What is especially attractive to me about this method is that not only can we use it to find what may be hidden about a plant but also that our method for doing so is based solidly in the material world. It is not all personal gnosis — which can be insightful but can also be a bunch of ignorant baloney or wishful thinking. We can see the link between the material and the spiritual or magical in a rudimentary form in the Doctrine of Signatures. For instance, we decide that if a plant has thorns, it's a Mars plant, because thorns are tiny weapons and Mars is a warrior (or an angry red planet). But does that say something about the spirit of the plant? Let's look closer.

Starting with Lore

Lore doesn't have to come from a grimoire or a high priestess. It can come from any part of our culture, any practice with a plant. One of the first things I look at when I want to learn about the magic of an herb is how it has been used medicinally. Information about the medicinal actions of herbs tends to be widely available and to involve little axe-grinding, in contrast to any written or even spoken material you may gather about an herb's magical uses. One of my favorite texts to consult for herbal medicine is Bartram's Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. This British book is founded on a practice of herbal medicine that is a bit more rigorous than what we find here in the United States and includes many traditional herbs that are not part of American herbal medicine anymore.

For instance, if herbal medicine tells you that an herb is a stimulant, you have justification for identifying it provisionally as a Mercury herb and can look at other aspects of the herb (leaf shape, scent, growth pattern) to bolster that identification. Having established for yourself that an herb is ruled by Mercury, you can then go on to examine whether it may be helpful in rituals for the acquisition of particular magical skills or charms to improve communication between two people.

By doing this, you never need have recourse to a table of correspondence or feel concerned that an herb in your environment that attracts you — perhaps something native to your area — is not listed in any table you can find or has not been addressed in any magical context. You can begin to know that herb starting with information about its medicinal use.

I often go further and examine an herb's chemical properties. A good source for that is a website called Dr. Duke's Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Database (, which lists the various chemical components of a large number of herbs. Examining these components can reveal unsuspected aspects and potentialities of an herb — although often, the most potent chemicals are volatiles (things we can smell), and we can notice them right away when handling the herb.

English lavender, for example, is typically considered a Mercury herb, but the list of chemical components on the Dr. Duke website gives camphor as a component of its flowers. Camphor is typically connected to the Moon, since it's cooling and white and its scent is cold. If you click on camphor in that list, you find all the properties of camphor — for instance, that it's a stimulant of the central nervous system and can cause convulsions, making interesting connections between the Mercury aspect of this plant and Mercury's rulership of the mind. You also find a list of plants with the highest levels of camphor — which, surprisingly, includes sage. This implies that sage has some Moon qualities that you should watch out for. It also hints that perhaps English lavender and sage may be good partners in magical work, because they have significant volatile chemicals in common.

This is not the kind of relationship that would be revealed simply by examining the usual botanical plant families or looking at only the plant structure, flower color, growth habit, or even tables of correspondence, which may put sage under Jupiter or Earth. Lots of magical secrets are hidden in plain sight in the chemical makeup of plants. So already we can see that, even at the very base of the material level — chemistry — we can deduce what an herb's magical capabilities may be.

Just from examining the medicinal and chemical properties of a plant, we can begin to get a picture of its general magical aspects. But if we look at the plant itself — its pattern of growth, the shape of its flowers, the number of its petals, what kind of fruit it produces (succulent, poisonous, dry, no fruit at all), its scent or taste, its cycle of growth, and where and how it grows — we can get a good sense of not only how we may use the plant magically but also of who the plant spirit is.

The more different perspectives you have on a plant, the more you come to know it in depth and in truth, and thereby approach its spirit. Once you do have a handle on it, you can make incense, washes, smokes, inks, dyes and other colorants, poppet stuffing, oil infusions, and even mannekins for use in various rituals, taking the plant's planetary influences as rough guides and your experiences on the ground to refine your knowledge of its magical capabilities. You can use the information available on the material manifestation of the plant's spirit to make magic with that plant and approach its spirit.

How Lore and Practice Can Conflict

Now that we've covered the intellectual approaches to knowing an herb, let's look at the sensual. Most of the herbs that are part of Western witchcraft have been ingested in one form or another, whether as a medicinal herb, a culinary herb or spice, a smoke, or an incense. All of these are valid ways of further coming to know an herb magically. Sometimes ingestion is the primary way that an herb is used in ritual — mugwort, for example, which is a tried-and-true aid to increase dreaming and, by extension, a help in Sabbatic work. It's an herb of little toxicity and, in our day, little medicinal or culinary use. Another good example is tobacco. The ingestion of this herb's smoke is probably the single most widely used magical or spiritual tool in the Western world. It has definite psychoactive effects that are especially powerful when it is not habitually ingested. But there's a "but" about ingestion.

You have to be sure that an herb you intend to ingest for magical purposes does not have dangerous effects on the physical level. One example I encountered a little while ago was someone wanting to make a tea for fertility from the root of American mandrake (Podophyllum peltatum). Clearly, they were basing this on the lore surrounding Old World or European mandrake (Mandragora officinarum), which, in the Hebrew Bible and also in latter days, was used for fertility — especially the fruits. In fact, you can still buy a liqueur made from the fruits of mandrake that is supposed to encourage lust, which does tend to lead to fertility. Today, it's very common to substitute American mandrake in spellwork for European mandrake, which is so difficult to obtain and very expensive when you do find it (although I will teach you in this book how to grow your own).

The problem is that, although American mandrake is often used as a magical substitute for Old World or European mandrake, it actually has almost nothing in common with that plant and, in my opinion, does not work as a substitute on any level at all. Just look at the physical effects. Whereas Old World mandrake contains tropane alkaloids, which are known to produce frightening hallucinations, American mandrake contains the ferocious phyllotoxin, which causes vomiting and diarrhea that can be so violent that a person may have to be taken to the emergency room and can even die from dehydration.

What made people conflate American mandrake and Old World mandrake? Well, they share some physical aspects. They both grow in woodlands. They both have fragrant white flowers. They both have round, golden fruits with apple-like flesh that, when fully ripe, are pleasant to eat and not poisonous. If you just look at one similarity between these two plants, you might be tricked like the poor individual who was advised to drink a tea made from American mandrake root for fertility. But if you look at even the most superficial aspects of its growth, you find big differences that tip you off right away that you cannot substitute these herbs for each other magically or in any other way.

Just for starters, the root of American mandrake is cord-like and grows horizontally in a line stretching out from the above-ground part of the plant. By contrast, the root of Old World mandrake is like that of a radish, growing directly down from the crown of the visible plant, and is famous for its resemblance to a human body. European mandrake grows from the same crown every year, penetrating deeper into the earth; American mandrake always produces new crowns as it moves across the forest floor, spreading outward in a very Uranian way (remember that Uranus rules purgatives in medicine). Thus, one plant sits still; the other travels. They are drastically different in the way they grow, which tells you they are drastically different in their medicinal uses — and implies that they are significantly different in their magical uses as well. So maybe using American mandrake as a substitute for European mandrake in spellwork is not such a good idea, regardless of who told you it was.

But let's say you are aware of any possible toxic effects of a plant and have taken them into account. Then you might, for instance, make tinctures using brandy for the fruits, rum for the leaves, potato vodka for the roots, regular vodka (usually made from grain) for the seeds, and so forth. You can then ingest the tincture in small amounts and note the effects. This will guide you further in identifying the magical properties and how the act of ingestion may itself be incorporated into ritual or give practitioners additional powers for magic.


Excerpted from The Witching Herbs by Harold Roth. Copyright © 2017 Harold Roth. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction xv

Chapter 1 Linking the Magical and the Material 1

Chapter 2 Cultivating Your Witch's Garden 17

Chapter 3 Poppy 33

Chapter 4 Clary Sage 61

Chapter 5 Yarrow 77

Chapter 6 Rue 95

Chapter 7 Hyssop 109

Chapter 8 Vervain 125

Chapter 9 Mugwort 141

Chapter 10 Wormwood 155

Chapter 11 Thornapple 167

Chapter 12 Wild Tobacco 183

Chapter 13 Henbane 197

Chapter 14 Belladonna 217

Chapter 15 Mandrake 231

Conclusion 245

Notes 247

Bibliography 251

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The Witching Herbs: 13 Essential Plants and Herbs for Your Magical Garden 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
NatoshaM More than 1 year ago
The book, The Witching Herbs by Harold Roth is quite a read! One thing to point out about this book is that it works with 13 plants. The reason for this is that the author makes clear that there are 13 months of the lunar calendar. Plus, what is really excellent about the book, these herbs and plants are separated by chapters. So if you want to learn about mugwort, you can learn about its spirit, how-to instructions for magical projects, growing and cultivating the plant. Each section or chapter will have one plant and the information will be dedicated to that plant. So you can easily find what you want without searching all over for it. With that said, I really enjoyed learning more about the 13 traditional herbs used in witchcraft. It's not always the type of herbs you'll find in an herbal guidance book, but these are well known for their magical benefits and how they are used in those types of projects. I really love the first chapter, guiding you through the information you'll find in this book and how it's set up with lore, practice, and in the garden. Each herb or plant will have this information covered under the plant you are reading about. Finally, I think it's very well organized, love the cover and the information on every herb inside. I love learning about each herb and some stories about what they were known for and how to use. It's quite an interesting book and very useful. Totally different when it comes to herbs, using types not always known in a herb garden but definitely great for witchcraft!