What's better than shopping for witchy herbs? Why, foraging them yourself, of course! There are so many plants out there that have beneficial properties, and gathering them in the wild can be a great way to connect with nature and your craft. Whether you’re a beginner witch looking to get started or an experienced practitioner looking to expand your knowledge, here’s how to get started collecting your own herbs.
Some people assume that nothing grows in the city besides useless weeds, but that is definitely not the case. Even humble or common plants can have amazing spiritual properties. Think of Dandelion, which is said to be useful in protection spells, or Blackberry leaf, which is sacred to Brigid and brings love, luck, and prosperity. Many popular landscaping plants—such as Oak, Juniper, and Citrus trees—have magical uses as well. These just scratch the surface of the many herbal varieties that you might find growing outdoors in your own backyard.
Foraging for herbs should always be done in a safe manner. Always wear protective clothing such as long sleeves and pants when out in nature, as well as closed-toe shoes that provide good support. Bring along insect repellent, sunscreen, and water. If you have allergies, don't forget your allergy medication. Gardening gloves are a good idea, because some plants have irritating spines or sap.
Plenty of foraging opportunities exist close to home--but if you are venturing off into the wilderness, use the buddy system. Bring a friend with you, or at least let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return. Make sure your phone is fully charged, too, in case you get lost or injured and need to get help. Mother Nature is not always a nice lady! It's important to stay hydrated and protected from the elements while outdoors, or your first foraging trip may turn you off of foraging for good.
Learn Your Plants
It's crucial to learn about which plants are safe for harvesting before heading out into the wild. Make sure that you can accurately identify the plants you're interested in collecting. A good local field guide or an app can be extremely helpful here.
Remember that consuming or touching poisonous plants can cause serious health issues. If there is any question as to whether or not it is safe to gather a particular plant, better to skip it. Leave wild mushrooms alone, unless you are an expert or have been trained by one. Especially in populated areas, foraged plants may be contaminated by pesticides or pollution. If you’re unsure, you can still use them ceremonially, but leave them out of your teas and tinctures.
Finally, be mindful that some plants may only be available during certain times of year. You’ll want to make sure that the herb is in the right stage of its life cycle before harvesting it. Never harvest any plant from private land without the permission of the owner first. Additionally, make sure that you are familiar with any local laws about harvesting plants. (Witchy tip: State park departments and wildlife conservation groups are a great resource for learning what grows nearby, what’s abundant, and what may be endangered.)
Hooray--you've found some plants! Now what? When gathering herbs, make sure only take what you need and leave plenty behind for others (including animals) who may benefit from them too. This allows enough room for the rest of the population to regenerate over time without being depleted entirely by over-harvesting.
If cutting branches or leaves from a plant, use sharp pruning shears or scissors instead of just pulling them off by hand. Cutting a plant can leave it exposed to disease and pests, so keep your hands and tools clean. When I go foraging, I pack sanitizing wipes for my tools to reduce the chance of spreading germs to vulnerable plants.
If you find a particularly rich source of a plant that you can use in your magic, take a note (or drop a digital pin.) You can come back for more later, or share the location with friends.
Respect and Gratitude
As witches, we have the ability to attune our consciousness to the plant’s and ask for its blessing before taking from it. While this may seem sentimental to some, it is the ethical thing to do and your magic will be stronger as well. Simply address the plant spirit (out loud or in your thoughts) and communicate your intention to harvest some of its body. Then open your mind’s eye (or your heart’s ear) and wait for an answer.
In my experience, fruits, berries, nuts, and seeds are almost always freely given. Leaves and branches sometimes are. Roots, bark, and protective spines may be offered reluctantly (or not at all) because the plant needs these to maintain its health and strength. Be willing to accept a “no,” and try again later (or with a different individual plant). When using branches, roots, or bark from trees, always take small amounts and only from mature plants. Offer your thanks, and consider feeding the plant some energy or clean water in return for what it has given you.
Finally, try not to remove anything else from nature other than what is necessary for your practice. Keep nature clean by packing out all trash when leaving an area after harvesting. If you leave offerings to fae or plant spirits, make sure that these are both biodegradable and non-invasive. (Leaving seeds, fruits or plants where they don't belong can harm the local ecology.)
Foraging for herbs is an integral part of many witchcraft practices—but it should always be done safely and responsibly. Before heading out into the wild, research which plants are safe for collection in your area; then make sure that you know how to properly identify them before beginning your harvest. It's a lot of work, but you may just find that harvesting plants in nature helps your practice and enhances the power of your herb magic. Happy collecting!
Today's guest post is courtesy of Freya MoonShadow of The Witch's Treasure.