Autumn time in the garden and orchard.
Blessed, sown, tended and harvested, Herbs are used throughout the world in various cultures for healing, magick, medicinal and culinary use. The Witches pantry usually stands aside from all others, a treasure trove of elixirs, brews, potions and lotions, all with great meaning and all with great magick. Used fresh or dried each herb has its own symbolism in the realms of Witchery. Herbs for protection, love and courage, ahh! but "witch" one and for what use?
Harvesting has been done for as long as Witches and humans were able to gather crops. Stored away for later use and making use of the crops around rather than letting them go to waste. The quality of your harvest and especially drying method will definitely enhance or deplete your magick. Good magick requires good herbs and plant material. Yes it is all about the intent, but mouldy, damp herbs will not perform well, magickally, medicinally and certainly not in a culinary form.
Rule of witch here is, only harvest what you need and make sure you have a use for what you take, and know what you will be using it for. If you get carried away you can end up harvesting too much only to have it spoil. Now that would be a sad waste for all involved, especially the plants that have given their lives entrusted to you. Also never take any more than a third of a plant, less if possible. This is to ensure its survival.
For this you will need:
- Sharp scissors or your magickal harvesting knife, boline, secateurs and/or garden tools
- Do not harvest wet or damp plants so make sure there is no dew on the plants. Give them a gentle shake to remove any loose dirt and check for bugs, insects and other unwanted debris, shaking them off before you take the plants indoors.
- Plant matter that falls to the ground is also not used in magick as all energy will have returned to the earth the moment it touches it. I usually have a cloth that I lay on the ground to collect my plants with; a basket will do just as well. They of course can still be used and not go to waste but magickally they will be neutral in energy.
- If a plant does not look good, then it will be no good for your work, but instead of leaving it, check to see if it needs water, is it in too hot a place, are there bugs eating it? Offer help by way of common sense in gardening.
- Now if for some reason you ask the plant for some of its foliage and it does not feel right, then perhaps the answer is no. Give thanks and leave the plant alone. It may have its own reasons or perhaps it is not the plant for the task at hand.
- A Ditty for each plant harvested. If harvesting Wormwood then a poem, chant or verse for that plant, if it is Mugwort then likewise and so on. Now this may seem tedious especially if you have lots of herbs to harvest, so my suggestion is to write up a little charm before you start and then one for when you have finished covering all the herbs. I have included a basic one, but I feel you are all old enough to make up one yourselves, no pressure!
‘Herbs around me in the garden you grow, Tis harvest time of that you know,
release yourself from Mother Earth to help in my work of magickal herbs.’
And on finishing:
‘Herbs before me, my thanks to you for helping my magick in all we do.’
If the season has been particularly hot and not enough watering has gone on, you will have found that many plants have gone to seed more quickly than others. Best to top these plants off, a good trim to remove the seed heads and any flowers. Collect these seeds so all is not lost. Place them onto a clean piece of cloth or card and leave them to dry, not in too hot a space. Once dried place them into paper envelopes, label, date and store away for Spring planting.
When picking any plant no matter what it is, it is important that we always ask for permission. We have our intent of the plant we would like and know what we need so we must ask before we take. This is done to honour the plant for which it may give its energy to us, this is turn is the energy we will work with and create our magick. If we were to just take without permission we would be no better than a common thief. So before you take any plant cuttings or what have you, speak to the deity or nature spirit of that plant, tree, herb or flower. Explain what you will be using the plant for; they want to know where their energy is going as would we.
‘Please may I have some of your foliage, flowers etc for my…….I thank you.’
It does not have to be elaborate, just a simple asking and giving thanks. An offering can be left as well, a small piece of bread, a tipple of wine, a sprinkling of sugar or a dab of honey. Any offering left with love and good intent will go down well with the nature spirits.
Storage is important, like any item even us there is a shelf life. A herbs use-by-date is governed by your nose. Some staunch traditionalists believe that all herbs should be set free after six months but as we know many last a lot longer than that and if they look and smell fine then why chuck them, they may have plenty of magick left in them. Roots, seeds and barks can last up to three years, leaves and flowers, two years. That is a fabulous amount of time providing you look after your treasures. Keep your herbs out of direct sunlight and in clean, dry glass jars. No plastic bags, use glass bottles or jars if possible, and brown paper bags if you must. Label your herbs, date them, add any information about them that may be needed, alternately you may have a record of them in your Book of Shadows or Herb journals. Information showing their use, date when harvested, Latin names and so forth. Always check your herbs weekly. Shake the jar before opening then open and smell. What do they smell like? Is there any mould, what about creepy crawlies in there?
If drying a new batch of the same herb, place it in a separate jar. A new herb will have more potent energies as well as its own unique energy even if it is from the same plant. If collected at a different time it will also have a different harvest record. I know some Witches just add to existing herbs such as topping up but if you can keep them separate.