The Healing Properties of Herbs
Herbs are, in fact, the most ancient cultivated garden plants in the world. In fact, Mother Earth provides us with a limitless selection of herbs for our use in making cosmetics, healing illnesses, purifying our bodies, homes and environments, doing magical operations, for spiritual initiations and for consuming. It is commonly believed that the first time herbal lore was recorded was about 5000 years ago in China.
An herb is a plant that is valued for qualities such as medicinal properties, flavor, scent, or spiritual uses. General usage differs between culinary herbs and medicinal herbs. In medicinal or spiritual use, any of the parts of the plant might be considered "herbs", including leaves, roots, flowers, seeds, resin, root bark, inner bark, and berries.
Herbs have the potential to nourish the body and heal the mind, spirit, and body. However, using herbs improperly or using the wrong dose of particular herbs can have detrimental effects and even cause death. Therefore, it is extremely important to use the Great Mother's medicines carefully. Do your homework and remember, more does not mean better just because herbs are "natural"!
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Systems of Herbal Healing
The use of herbs to treat disease is almost universal among non-industrialized societies. A number of traditions came to dominate the practice of herbal medicine at the end of the twentieth century:
- The herbal medicine system, based on Greek and Roman sources. Many Greek and Roman writings on medicine, as on other subjects, were preserved by diligent hand copying of manuscripts in monasteries. The monasteries thus tended to become local centers of medical knowledge, and their herb gardens provided the raw materials for simple treatment of common disorders.
- The Siddha and Ayurvedic medicine systems from India. The Siddha medicine is a form of south Indian traditional medicine and part of the trio Indian medicines - Ayurveda, Siddha and Unani. This system of medicine was popular in ancient India, even 2000 years before Christ. Due to the antiquity of this medical system. The Siddha system of medicine is believed to be the oldest medical system in the universe. The system is believed to be developed by the Siddhars, the ancient supernatural spiritual saints of India and the Siddha system is believed to be handed over to the Siddhar by the Hindu God - Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvathi. So are the Siddhars, the followers of Lord Shiva.
- Chinese herbal medicine (Chinese herbology). Chinese herbal medicine reflects the classical Chinese belief that the life and activity of individual human beings have an intimate relationship with the environment at all scales.Chinese herbology often incorporates ingredients from all parts of plants, the leaf, stem, flower, root, and also ingredients from animals and minerals. The use of parts of endangered species (such as seahorses, rhinoceros horns, and tiger bones) has created controversy and resulted in a black market of poachers who hunt restricted animals. Many herbal manufacturers have discontinued the use of any parts from endangered animals.
- Unani-Tibb medicine. Unani medicine is based on the theory of the presence of the elements - fire, water, earth and air - in the human body. According to followers of Unani medicine, these elements are present in different fluids and their balance leads to health and their imbalance leads to illness. The base of Unani medicine is often honey,and the medicine and remedies themselves often herbs and foods.
- Shamanic Herbalism. Shamanism refers to a range of traditional beliefs and practices concerned with communication with the spirit world. Practitioners of shamanism are known as shamans. Shamans engage various processes and techniques for healing purposes, such as singing, dancing, taking psychoactive herbs, meditating, drumming, and herbalism.
- Hoodoo and rootwork. Hoodoo is a magickal system based on Southern African American folklore that uses herbs, roots, bones, and a variety of curios to effect change and healing. The goal of hoodoo is to tap into supernatural forces to improve daily life by gaining power in areas such as luck, money, love, divination, revenge, health, employment, and necromancy. For example, jasmine comes as dried flower tops and can be used as a spiritual incense or placed in mojo bags. Lavender is used as loose flowers or in cones and sticks for attracting the same sex.
Herbalism is a traditional medicinal or folk medicine practice based on the use of plants and plant extracts. Herbalism is also known as botanical medicine, medical herbalism, herbal medicine, herbology, and phytotherapy. Sometimes the scope of herbal medicine is extended to include fungi and bee products, as well as minerals, shells and certain animal parts. Many of the herbs and spices used by humans to season food yield useful medicinal compounds. People on all continents have used hundreds to thousands of indigenous plants for treatment of ailments since prehistoric times.
In the written record, the study of herbs dates back over 5,000 years to the Sumerians, who described well-established medicinal uses for such plants as laurel, caraway, and thyme. The Egyptians of 1000 B.C. are known to have used garlic, opium, castor oil, coriander, mint, indigo, and other herbs for medicine and the Old Testament also mentions herb use and cultivation, including mandrake, vetch, caraway, wheat, barley, and rye.
Traditional Chinese Medicine
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), which encompasses many different practices, is rooted in the ancient philosophy of Taoism and dates back more than 5,000 years. Today, TCM is practiced side by side with Western medicine in many of China’s hospitals and clinics.
Underlying the practice of TCM is a unique view of the world and the human body that is different from Western medicine concepts. This view is based on the ancient Chinese perception of humans as microcosms of the larger, surrounding universe-interconnected with nature and subject to its forces. The human body is regarded as an organic entity in which the various organs, tissues, and other parts have distinct functions but are all interdependent. In this view, health and disease relate to balance of the functions.
The first Chinese herb book (or herbal), dating from about 2700 B.C., lists 365 medicinal plants and their uses – including ma-Huang, the shrub that introduced the drug ephedrine to modern medicine.
The theoretical framework of TCM has a number of key components:
* Yin-yang theory-the concept of two opposing, yet complementary, forces that shape the world and all life-is central to TCM.
* In the TCM view, a vital energy or life force called qi circulates in the body through a system of pathways called meridians. Health is an ongoing process of maintaining balance and harmony in the circulation of qi.
* The TCM approach uses eight principles to analyze symptoms and categorize conditions: cold/heat, interior/exterior, excess/deficiency, and yin/yang (the chief principles). TCM also uses the theory of five elements-fire, earth, metal, water, and wood-to explain how the body works; these elements correspond to particular organs and tissues in the body. A great book for diagnosing health conditions is the Diagnosis Study Guide by Qiao Yi and Al Stone.
These concepts are documented in the Huang Di Nei Jing Su Wen: Nature, Knowledge, Imagery in an Ancient Chinese Medical Text (Inner Canon of the Yellow Emperor), the classic Chinese medicine text.
Traditional Chinese Medicine: An Introduction
- Traditional Chinese Medicine: An Introduction | NCCAM
Evidence-based information from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Native American Herbalism
The following plants are routinely used by American Indians, and have come to be recognized as safe by virtue of historical and continued use without deleterious effects to health.
- Black sage, (Salvia mellifera), can be used against pain. A strong sun tea of the leaves and stems of the plant can be rubbed on the painful area or used to soak one’s feet.
- California bay leaves are used to treat pain.
- California poppy can be chewed to treat toothache, and to decrease milk production in nursing mothers.
- California sagebrush can bring back pleasant memories. The smell of the leaves and stems is pleasant and relaxing.
- Douglas’ sagewort is used to induce dreaming, as well as an antibacterial and douche. Leaves and stems under a pillow at night can help sleep as well as induce dreams.
- Ephedra spp. is used as a diuretic, as a treatment for urinary tract infections, for asthma, and as stimulant due to the presence of ephedrine and other compounds.
- Horsetail or Scouring Rush is used as a diuretic because of it contains high concentrations of oxalic acid and calcium oxalate and therefore can also be a throat irritant if brewed improperly.
- Matilija poppy is applied topically to treat sunburn.
- White sage can be grown in a garden and used every day to purify the spirit. One leaf is placed in a water bottle, and used normally. Sucking on a leaf can soothe sore throats since the leaves contain camphor and other therapeutic compounds.
What is Hoodoo, Conjure, and Rootwork?
Southern Rootwork is a living tradition currently practiced and passed along by word of mouth, imitation, and observation over time and space within groups, such as family, ethnic, social class, regional, and others. It evolved out of a conglomeration of African Traditional Religions (ATRs) brought to American shores with the slave trade. The word Hoodoo is often used interchangeably with rootwork to denote various forms of African-based ethnobotanical, folk magic systems, medicinal healing and hexing through the use of herbs, roots, bones, and stones. Southern rootwork as we know it today is largely influenced by Native American and Latino Diasporic traditions, as well as European folk magic. That said, it is African at its roots.
When it first arrived to these shores via the slave trade, Hoodoo was a very powerful system of ancestral-based magical, spiritual and herbal system of knowledge said to be directly connected to the African Vodou Spirits. It is said that Legba, the primary deity and intermediary, was given this system of knowledge by the forest spirits (Azizzas) and he along with the Vodou, in turn passed the knowledge on to the ancestors. The system provided the ancestors with a means of controlling and influencing the environment and was a primary way of coping with daily living. The African spirits were represented by crude wooden fetishes called boccio which were undoubtedly the forerunner of the American Voodoo doll; though, popular culture and the tourist trade have corrupted their original meaning and intent. According to the Mami Wata society:
"This system of knowledge was mastered by most Africans who lived on the Guinea Coast, all the way to Nigeria and the Bight of Benin (Ghana, Ivory Coast, Togo, Angola, Senegal, etc.) It is from these African populations in particular (Fon, Ewe, Yoruba, Kongo-based groups) who carried this knowledge and tradition with them during their forced migration to the New World.
From the Dahomean perspective, if one were to substitute the word "Hunbonon" (familiar/mother) or Gbo/Gbokonan (medicine maker) for the popular New World term "Hoodoo", one would be placing this system of both magic, esoteric science, medicine and art, back in its historical mileu.”
For the term itself refers to a body of powerfully consecrated priests whose title literally translates as "producers or activators." Producers in the sense that it is they who not only possess the knowledge of all of the most sacred herbs, animals, metals, and other products of nature, used in magic, "hexing" and medicine, but are also its activators.
These priest are derived from all aspects of West African traditional spiritual practices, from our Bokonons,(geomancers), Azondoto, Zokas, Garbara, Akpases (socerers), Botonons (priest) and Mamaissiis (Mami Wata priests)."
Over time, the connection between the Vodou religion and the system of sacred knowledge of herbs, animals and minerals in magic and medicine was weakened as a result of colonization and the various traumatic events associated with colonization, i.e. religious persecution, forced separation of families, slavery, discrimination, Christianity and the Black Code (particularly in Louisiana). Now, Hoodoo is mostly considered to be the practice, study and use of roots, herbs, bones, stones, natural elements, and their magical, esoteric and medicinal use within a particular cultural context without the initiatory and religious practices of the Vodou religion or intervention of its pantheon of spirits. The connection between Legba, the Azzizas and the gift of knowledge of the healing properties of plants, herbs and roots has been forgotten by modern day rootworkers. Let us not forget from whence the “root” in rootwork came.
Balm of Gilead
Balm of Gilead
According to an old Black Spiritual, "There is a balm in Gilead to soothe the sin sick soul." Presented as a gift to Solomon, Balm of Gilead was cultivated in Judea on Mt. Gilead.
Balm of Gilead buds come from Cottonwood Poplar or Balm of Gilead trees in the United States that produce a resinous, sticky and tight bud that is highly aromatic. The dried, unopened buds of the poplar tree have been used in ointments and skin treatments for at least 3,000 years. Balm of Gilead has been effectively used in compounds for its antibacterial and antiinflammatory actions, as well.
As in the Bible, the use of Balm of Gilead buds in hoodoo works include love, protection from the malicious meddling of others, reconciliation, mending a broken heart, soothing troublesome relationships and for comfort. The buds can also be burned on charcoal to attract spirits, carried to attract a new love, and made into an oil of consecration.
To extract the resin, crush the buds, cover with olive oil, and allow to sit for two weeks to one month. Be sure to add a little vitamin E to prevent rancidity.
The Use of Plants Roots and Herbs in Rootwork
Hoodoo is a form of predominantly African-American traditional folk magic. Also known as conjure, it is a tradition of magical practice that developed from the creolization of a number of separate cultures and magical traditions, including African and Native American traditions, European magical practices and grimoires, as well as the saints and psalms of Catholicism. Rootwork is the term used to describe a person who incorporates the use of herbs and roots in their hoodoo practice.
The goal of hoodoo is to allow people access to supernatural forces to improve their daily lives by gaining power in many areas of life, including luck, money, love, divination, revenge, health, employment, and necromancy. As in many other folk religious, magical, and medical practices, extensive use is made of herbs, minerals, parts of animals' bodies, an individual's possessions, and bodily fluids, especially menstrual blood, urine and semen. Contact with ancestors or other spirits of the dead is an important practice within the conjure tradition, and the recitation of Psalms from the Bible is also considered magically effective in hoodoo. Due to hoodoo's great emphasis on an individual's magical power, its basic principles of working are generally felt to be easily adapted for use based on one's desires, inclination and habits.
Magickal Properties of Herbs
Adam and Eve Root
Five Finger Grass
Balm of Gilead
Soul-Healing Herbs and Plants
There is a long history of the use of herbs in countless religious and spiritual practices, often involving the use of psychoactive plants and herbs. Psychoactive herbs contain properties that are closely related to endogenous neurochemicals; in other words, the “feel good” chemicals that in our brain. They occur in a wide variety of psychedelics of various religious rites and have been shown to directly provoke what users perceive as spiritual/mystical experiences. Psychoactive herbs are used in many religions and spiritual practices, such as the sacramental use of peyote in the Native American Church, the spiritual use of cannabis in the Rastafari movement, and the use of cannabis as a sacrament in the Church of the Universe. Psychoactive plants have been safely utilized in a ritualized context for thousands of years.
Other examples of the use of psychoactive herbs in a shamanistic context include the Bwitist culture of Africa, who used a preparation of the root bark of Iboga (Tabernanthe iboga). A famous psychoactive plant of ancient Egypt is the blue lotus (Nymphaea caerulea). Traditionally, Mexican cultures have used a variety of psychoactive plants in a religious context, including peyote, psilocybin mushrooms, and the seeds of several types of morning glories.
In ancient Germanic culture cannabis was associated with the Germanic love goddess Freya. The harvesting of the plant was connected with an erotic high festival. It was believed that Freya lived as a fertile force in the plant’s feminine flowers and by ingesting them one became influenced by this divine force. Similarly, fly agaric was consecrated to Odin, the god of ecstasy, while henbane stood under the dominion of the thunder god – Thor in Germanic mythology – and Jupiter among the Romans (Rätsch 2003).
European witches used various psychoactive herbs, including thorn-apple, deadly nightshade, mandrake, and henbane. These plants were used, among other things, for the manufacture of “flying ointments”.
Some believe that Christian hermits and mystics could possibly have used psychoactive plants in conjunction with fasting, meditation and prayer.
According to ‘The Living Torah’, cannabis was an ingredient of holy anointing oil mentioned in various sacred Hebrew texts. This is mentioned several times in the Old Testament as a bartering material, incense, and an ingredient in holy anointing oil used by the high priest of the temple (Kaplan,1981).
Kaplan, Aryeh. (1981). The Living Torah New York. p. 442.
Rätsch,C. (2003-2004). The Sacred Plants of our Ancestors. TYR: Myth-Culture-Tradition Vol. 2.
Magic Plants and Witchcraft
© 2014 Denise M Alvarado
Please leave a comment!
TDK on August 14, 2017:
Very very nice
Rodrigo Sebidos from Zone2 Brgy.Guadalupe, Baybay City, Leyte, Philippines on November 01, 2015:
Denise, very extensive literature and very good source of info on herbs!Nice work.