alpinia officinarum

Unusual Herbs

Recently, as I was reading through several books, I came across quite a few ingredients that I had either never heard of or was unsure of their exact nature. While the herbs compiled below are not necessarily “unusual,” they are ones of which I did not have extensive knowledge. Hopefully this list can be of help to anyone new to the craft, if not at least interesting reference material. 

Asafoetida:
Also known as “devil’s dung” due to its foul smell, asafoetida is a type of resin derived from a perennial herb native to Iran and Afghanistan. Today, it is mainly used as a powdered seasoning in India, as it tastes like garlic or onions when heated. Its magical powers include exorcism, purification, and protection. Careful when storing, as the odour may contaminate nearby herbs. 

Bistort:
Also referred to as “snake weed,” bistort is a flowering plant native to Europe, as well as North and West Asia. Its long flowers are different shades of pink. The American bistort (or smokeweed) has white to pinkish blooms. This plant’s magical uses include physic powers and fertility. When combined with frankincense, you can improve physic powers, aid in divination, or drive out poltergeists.

Calamus:
May be called “sweet flag,” “sweet rush,” “sweet cane,” “sweet grass,” “sweet root,” or “sweet sedge.” A type of wetland plant, its magical uses include luck, healing, money, and protection. The powdered root can be used in healing incenses and sachets. Use caution, this plant may be carcinogenic.

Cinquefoil:
Of the two species listed in Cunningham’s Encyclopaedia of Magical Herbs, one is native to the eastern parts of US and Canada, while another is native to Eurasia and Northern Africa. Cinquefoil has blooms that can be white or yellow and leaves looking similar to those on strawberry plants. Its magical uses include money, protection, prophetic dreams, and sleep. 

Deerstongue:
Sometimes called “wild vanilla” because the leaves, when crushed or dried, produce the scent of vanilla. The leaves can be used to flavour tobacco. Native to North America, this herb grows pretty purple florets, and it is this attribute which leads some to call it by another name, “blazing star.” Its magical uses are lust and psychic powers. 

Galangal: 
Lesser galangal (Alpinia officinarum) is native to China, while greater galangal (Alpinia galanga) is native to South Asia and Indonesia. May be referred to as “chewing John” or “Low John the Conqueror,” this herb is a member of the ginger family. Its magical uses include protection, lust, health, money, psychic powers, and hex-breaking. If galangal is not available, ginger may be substituted. 

Grains of Paradise:
This peppery-like spice is native to West Africa and, along with galangal, belongs to the ginger family. Its powers include lust, luck, love, money, and wishes. While holding some grains of paradise in your hands, make a wish, and then throw a little of the herb to each direction, beginning in the north and ending in the west. 

Heliotrope:
Careful, this plant is poisonous! The flowers of “cherry pie” or “turnsole” can be white or purple and have the fragrance of vanilla. Garden heliotrope originates from Peru, while common heliotrope is native to Europe, North Africa, and Asia. This herb can be used for exorcism, prophetic dreams, healing, wealth, and invisibility. 

Niaouli:
Most commonly used as an essential oil, niaouli is a type of tree covered in papery bark from the genus melaleuca, of “tea tree” fame. Niaouli oil is made from the leaves and twigs of the tree. Though native to Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia, and parts of Australia, it is considered a weed in the United States. Appropriate for use in a “protective” oil blend. 

Petitgrain:
Another essential oil, petitgrain is made from the leaves and twigs of the bitter orange tree, thus giving it a woodsy, citrus scent. This would also work well in a “protective” oil blend. 

Stephanotis:
A flowering plant with waxy, white blooms and leathery leaves, the particular species “Madagascar jasmine” is popular in wedding bouquets. Its essential oil has the magical property of friendship. 

Tansy:
Sometimes referred to as “golden buttons” because of the appearance of its flowers. It is native to Eurasia but invasive in some parts of North America and is toxic if ingested. Tansy can be planted to repel ants, and magically, it has the powers of health and longevity. 

Ti:
This plant is native to southeastern Asia, Papua New Guinea, Melanesia, northeastern Australia, and parts of Polynesia, but was introduced to Hawaii by Polynesian settlers and greatly utilised there. “Ki” in Hawaiian, this plant is also referred to as “good luck plant.” Its associated deities include Kāne, Lono, and Pele. Magically, ti is used for protection and healing. Green ti planted around the house creates a protective barrier. 

Tuberose:
A richly scented, night-blooming white flower native to Mexico. Tuberose absolute is true tuberose essential oil, while others are synthesised for the scent. If the fragrance bouquet is all you need, you can create this with the oils of ylang-ylang, rose, jasmine, and a hint of neroli. Magically used in love-attracting mixtures. 

Woodruff:
Strongly scented, herbaceous plant sometimes referred to as “sweet woodruff,” “master of the woods,” or “wild baby’s breath.” Commercially, dried woodruff is used as pot-pourri or moth deterrent, but magically, it is used for victory, protection, and money. 

Alpinia officinarum, lesser galangal or Chinese ginger - Look at my rhizomes!

The more I look into the ginger family - Zingiberaceae or temu-temuan in Indonesian - the more I think they are the most fabulous plants on earth. You have things like turmeric, ginger and cardamom, plus a whole mess of more obscure rhizomy goodness (like this one) great for culinary and medicinial applications. I am going to have to start a collection.