Making Magick with Herbs, Resins & Essential Oils
“Eye of newt and toe of frog, wool of bat and tongue of dog…” The Song of the Witches from Macbeth conjures images of rather gory ingredients, but as it turns out, these spell components were likely mustard seed, buttercup, holly leaves, and houndstongue. That’s right; even those infamous witches used herbs in their magick.
While you probably won’t be leading a hero to their demise, it’s entertaining to see the lineage of magickal practices, even in Shakespearean fiction. Whether you’re an experienced witch or a new practitioner, herbs can bring another layer of magick to your spells and rituals that you may not have considered. To keep you from toiling or trouble, we’ve created a handy guide for you!
Herbs Used for Magick
You probably have a wealth of herbs and spices in your pantry. In fact, no rule says you can’t use herbs from your kitchen in your magickal practices. Just be sure to keep any herbs that are poisonous to humans far away from your kitchen pantry.
Herbs vs. Spices
Herbs are grown for the use of their soft parts: flowers, leaves, and roots. They can be dried or fresh, depending on how you intend to use them. Spices, conversely, are the ground and processed parts of herbal plants: their roots, bark, or seeds. The easiest way to tell the difference between the two is whether a plant has aromatic leaves. Rosemary, for instance, is an herb, but cinnamon, which is the bark of a tree, is considered a spice. This doesn’t mean you can’t use spices like cinnamon in your spellwork, though!
Some plants are even considered both an herb and a spice. Cilantro, for example, is the leafy, herbaceous part of the same plant from which Coriander seeds are harvested.
Selecting Herbs and Spices
When selecting herbs and spices for your practice, be sure to check that each is safe to ingest, apply to skin, or have around your familiars – depending on how you intend to use it. The National Library of Medicine at NIH has a free app to help you learn more about herbs and botanicals on the go. It even includes possible side effects and cautions with each entry.
Here is a beginning shopping list for herbs and spices, with some of their magickal correspondences:
- Allspice: Luck and money
- Basil: Happiness, money, peace, business success
- Bay Leaves: banishing, psychic development, wish magick, wealth
- Black Pepper: Binding, dispelling curses, stopping gossip
- Cloves: Money and wealth
- Crushed Red Pepper: Romance, empowerment, protection
- Dill Weed: Luck, money, romance
- Fennel: Home protection, strengthens the mind
- Garlic: Dissuades thieves, strengthens other spell ingredients, removes negative energy
- Marjoram: Dreams, ancestor magick, protection, eases grieving
- Mustard Seed: Faith, success, courage
- Parsley: Purification, luck, vitality, strength, calm
- Poppy Seeds: Increased awareness, luck, pleasure
- Rosemary: Love, romance, purification, consecration
- Sage: Wisdom, cleansing, longevity, home blessing
- Thyme: Beauty, luck, ward off nightmares, loyalty
- Vanilla: Self-love, vitality, romance
For more information on these herbal ingredients, we recommend this list at Plentiful Earth.
The Magickal Properties of Resins
A basic supply of witchy ingredients usually also includes resins. Natural resins are the dried sap of a tree and can be added to a spell or burned like incense using a charcoal disc. Some of our favorite resins are Frankincense, Myrrh, Copal, and a mix called Three Kings.
Frankincense comes from a small, low-growing tree found in the desert regions of the world, namely Northern Africa and the Middle East. At one time, it was considered more valuable than gold. Frankincense is linked with the sun, which is why it’s often a correspondence to the sun gods Bast, Apollo, and Obatala. You may have also used it in Yule rituals to celebrate the return of the sun.
Frankincense is a wonderful spiritual cleanser. Burning the resin in your home can help clear negative energies from the space. It’s also a powerful attractor of good luck!
Myrrh is another powerful cleansing resin. Like Frankincense, it’s linked to the sun but often also associated with the Underworld. This makes it a powerful ingredient around Samhain or while working with Underworld deities.
Myrrh comes from a desert tree as well, which grows primarily in India, Ethiopia, and Kenya. Like Frankincense, the drops of dried myrrh are often referred to as “tears,” which also pays homage to its use in ancient funeral rituals.
Golden copal looks similar to Frankincense but hails from a different part of the world entirely. In fact, it has been used ceremonially since pre-Columbian Mesoamerican times. Copal also comes in black and white varieties as well, which offer a richer, heavier scent or a sweeter and lighter scent respectively.
No matter which variety of copal you use, it helps purify your space and can be used in meditation for cleansing the mind as well. Should you need extra grounding, consider black copal. It’s the most grounding of the three and in Mayan culture, black copal was considered food for the gods. This makes it a good ingredient to ground yourself while stimulating your upper chakras.
Three Kings Blend
Three Kings Blend is typically a mixture of three resins: frankincense, myrrh, and benzoin. Benzoin is used today in perfumes and has traditionally been called upon to relieve tension and allow for more focus. Like the three individual resins above, Three Kings Blend helps clear negative energy, center the mind and body, and relieve stress.
Using Essential Oils in Herbal Magick
For witches who can’t burn incense or don’t want to keep a bunch of herbs organized, essential oils can provide a pleasant alternative. Essential oils are the essences of a plant, extracted through distillation or a cold press. If you intend to use essential oils on your skin, be sure to mix them with a carrier oil like apricot or coconut oil.
Essential oils are also quite useful for dressing candles. Just be sure to pay close attention when burning candles dressed with any oil. The oil can cause sparks and the flame may burn hotter than normal.
You can also combine essential oils to create a room spray. If, for instance, you want to burn sage or palo santo to clear the bad vibes from a room, but your landlord doesn’t allow it, a room spray with one or both of these oils can provide an alternative that’s just as powerful as smoke.
Be cautious when diffusing essential oils around your familiars. Cats and birds are especially sensitive to essential oils, although dogs can have a dangerous reaction to them as well.
As you use herbs, resins, or essential oils, remember YOU bring the magick to your practice. Experiment with different combinations and in different forms to find what works best for you.