Working with Plants
1. Start your own Herbal. There are some great books out there, but recording your own experiences/uses/collected lore for herbs is invaluable. Draw, press or take photos of the plants you include.
2. Learn about plants by seeing them with your own eyes. Visit botanical gardens, nurseries, garden centres and parks to see the plants in situ and (hopefully) correctly labelled. The human brain has an amazing memory for plants, it is a survival skill to be able to identify them. When you walk through a park or garden, notice the plants and identify those you know to re-establish this memory.
3. Grow things. Be as ambitious as your space, money and time allow. Collect plants that are hard to find, appeal to you and suit your climate. Go beyond culinary herbs. Be aware of where you plant things in the garden, both directionally and symbolically. Plants you have grown are constantly receiving offerings of your time, energy and resources and are therefore more likely to be willing to assist you.
4. Plants will die. Even the most experienced gardener will lose plants. Accept it. Don’t just buy a few seedlings and then decide you lack a green thumb because they all died. Some herbs are annuals, that means they only live for a season, some plants are deciduous, some will simply not be suited to your climate or area and fail to thrive. Be patient and persistent and become a student of gardening as well has herbcraft.
5. Work in depth with a particular herb or tree to discover its secrets. Read everything you can about it, research folklore and planetary correspondences, consume it raw, dried, as a tea and a tincture. Prepare a spagyric essence from it. Burn it as incense. Infuse oil with it. Grow it, talk to it, dream about it. Watch how it changes through the seasons, collect its seeds, smell its flowers. Do this until you know it inside out, and then begin again with another.
6. Substituting herbs is tricky business. No, you can not replace all flowers with lavender or all herbs with rosemary. That is lazy nonsense. Put some actual effort into getting the herbs you need for a spell, and if you genuinely can’t acquire them find something botanically related, energetically similar or at very least ruled by the same planet.
7. Treat herbs and trees as spirits, with respect and humility. Ask before your take, leave offerings, communicate, bond with them and you will be rewarded with gifts and wisdom and powerful ingredients for your spells.
8. Poisonous herbs and strong entheogens are for advanced practitioners. Don’t just start growing or using them because you want to be taken seriously. Some of these plants are tricksters, they can be very seductive. They are quite capable of controlling you. Be wary.
9. When harvesting for magical use, think not only what the plant is but where it is growing. A tree on a university campus will have different properties to the same kind found in a graveyard. A herb growing at the crossroads is different to one found by a stream.
10. Expand your learning and awareness beyond trees and herbs. Learn the lore of mosses, lichens, fungi and seaweeds. Parasitic and carnivorous plants. Get to know the plants that grow locally, even if they are far removed from those found in your books.
11. Check your sources when it comes to lore. If a book tells you lavender is good for love spells, question it. Try to discover where the information came from, look up the older herbals, read books of plant folklore, investigate planetary and elemental correspondences based on the nature and virtues of the plant, not just what Cunningham says.
12. Develop relationships not only with individual trees and herbs, but with particular species. Plants can be spirit guides in the way that animals can. There is an oak tree, and then there is Oak. They can teach, guide and protect. Having a handful of plant allies you know intimately and fashioning your tools from their wood, planting them around your house and visiting them in the wild will make your connection to those spirits all the stronger.