Notes from the Apothecary

July, 2019

Notes from the Apothecary: Book Recommendations

Hi all! Summer is here, and we might all need to take a break from the heat every now and then. With that in mind, I thought it might be good to give you a little insight into the books I use to help me craft each month’s Notes from the Apothecary. Then you’ll have some light reading to do while you’re sat in a nice air-conditioned room somewhere- or out in the park!

I love plants of all types, and often my research comes from experience. However, when looking at the medical uses, particularly from bygone eras, I refer to many different volumes. I also have a few go-to manuals when it comes to magical interpretations of plants. Here are a few of my favourites.

Mrs Grieve’s A Modern , 1931

This book is an absolute treasure trove. She references so many older naturalists and botanists and makes it really easy to cross reference and find the original sources for the information she’s providing. The wealth of plants in here is astonishing, and the fact that the whole book is available online too makes it invaluable to anyone with an interest in herbs. She includes snippets of folklore as well as medicinal uses for all the plants, and includes many different common names to make it easier to find the plant you are looking for.

Culpeper’s Complete

Born in 1616, Culpeper’s work is still surprisingly relevant in many ways. His Complete , originally known as The English Physician, is an astonishing catalogue of hundreds of herbs, all with medicinal uses. He took pride in his combination of experience, reason, diligence and honesty, and had a healthy respect for nature. His work is so interesting to us because it is due to his descriptions of medicinal plants and their uses that many were shipped to the New World to be used as medicines there. The world might be a very different place, botanically speaking if not for the writing of Nicholas Culpeper.

A Kitchen Witch’s World of Magical Plants and Herbs by Rachel Patterson

This book from experienced Kitchen Witch Rachel Patterson explains about the different magical energy plants have and how to harness them. It helps novices grow their own plants and explains the best ways to harvest and store leaves, seeds, and flowers. It’s a wonderful reference for any witch, with plenty of correspondences.

A Kitchen Witch’s World of Magical Herbs & Plants on Amazon

Cunningham’s Encyclopaedia of Magical Herbs by Scott Cunningham

It’s important to note that I don’t agree with everything Mr Cunningham has to say. Regular readers will infer my written roll of the eyes at yet another reference to a plant that automatically has water-Venus-feminine energy. I find this volume often over simplified and lacking in detail which can be easily extrapolated from older herbals or items of folklore. However, it has an astonishing range of folk and common names to cross reference, and is an amazing starting point for anyone wanting to know what the magical significance of any plant may be. The inclusion of snippets of folk magic for each plant are useful and exciting to both the casual and serious researcher. Cunningham’s is often my starting point before delving deeper into any particular plant.

[Encyclopaedia of Magical Herbs] (By: Scott Cunningham) [published: April, 2000] on Amazon

By Wolfsbane and Mandrake Root by Melusine Draco

The tagline for this book is “The shadow world of plants and their poisons”. That’s exactly what this book is: a focus on the plants we often try to avoid, but which are, obviously , incredibly magically and spiritually significant. The books explores poisons which can also be medicines as well as looking at the uses of poisonous plants in various types of magic. An engaging read and a great reference.

Pagan Portals – By Wolfsbane & Mandrake Root: The Shadow World Of Plants And Their Poisons on Amazon

I hope you enjoy my recommendations, and please drop me a line (Twitter: @Mabherick) if there’s a particular plant you’d like me to explore- whether that’s a herb, flower or tree. Until next time!


About the Author:

Mabh Savage is a Pagan author, poet and musician, as well as a freelance journalist.

She is the author of A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors & Pagan Portals – Celtic Witchcraft: Modern Witchcraft Meets Celtic Ways.

A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors on Amazon

Pagan Portals – Celtic Witchcraft: Modern Witchcraft Meets Celtic Ways on Amazon

Notes from the Apothecary

March, 2016

Notes from the Apothecary: Rowan



Image: ‘Flying’ Rowan at Brimham Rocks in North Yorkshire, UK. Copyright Chris Gunns 2006 via Wikimedia, some rights reserved.

As well as what we traditionally think of as herbs, every apothecary should be stocked with some other items. I’ve already spoken about bulbs such as garlic, and spices like cinnamon. Now I’d like to move on to the largest of our green cousins; the trees.

I’ve chosen the Rowan, or mountain ash, as my first tree to explore as it is well known as a sacred and magical plant in many different cultures. I am most familiar with the Celtic tales of the Rowan tree, as it is a path of Celtic Witchcraft I follow. However, my favourite tale about the Rowan is actually from Greek mythology: that it grew from the blood of the eagle sent to retrieve the chalice of Hebe. This is why the leaves are the shape of feathers, and the berries (usually) blood red.

The Kitchen Garden

‘But you can’t eat Rowan!’, I hear some of you cry. Well, OK, I don’t recommend it for the novice, but you can actually make a rather nice jelly out of the berries. You mustn’t eat the berries raw, and even when cooked it’s only the juice or the decoction of the fruit we want. Like rosehips, rowan berries have tiny fibres inside that are extremely irritant to our inner tubes, so they are not for chewing on!

If you boil them up though, breaking them up slightly as they soften, then strain the liquid through muslin, the resulting ‘juice’ has a unique flavour that pairs very well with a pectin high fruit such as apples or pears.

The Apothecary

Our old friend Mrs Grieve tells us that both the bark and the berries have medicinal properties. She advises that a decoction of the bark may be given for diarrhoea and that it is also effective against vaginal infections. The ripe berries, she says, are useful for sore throats and inflamed tonsils. Again, I would warn against eating the berries due to the irritant nature of the seeds. I presume Mrs Grieve means for you to make an infusion of the berries, and strain it well.

Rowan berries are also astringent which may make them useful against haemorrhoids.

Rowan wood has been carried as a charm against rheumatism and the berries hung in a house to ward off flu. Although there’s no evidence to back up the medical claims here, the magical protectiveness of the tree is superb so perhaps this is where the healing comes from in these instances.

Day to Day use

Rowan wood is dense and tough and as such is used for staffs, staves and walking sticks. In Finland, it is used in farm tools and horse drawn sleds.

The berries are also used in dyeing. The berries themselves contain the tannins which help the dye ‘set’, and when combined with the bark produce a dye which stains black. I can’t imagine any item of clothing more potent than a cloak or robe dyed black with rowan.

The Witch’s Kitchen

One of the plus points of Rowan is that any witch can use all parts of the tree; the leaves, the wood, the bark, the roots, the flowers and the berries.

The wood makes an excellent wand, although of course don’t destroy any trees in order to find your perfect piece. Rowan trees are quite small generally and won’t be happy about having huge chunks torn off them. I tend to look for lucky windfalls after a gale. Rowan wood is an excellent protective wood, and wards off energies that seek to harm you. A rowan wand would make an excellent tool for cleansing and consecrating, especially a sacred space. The wood can also be carved, so you can personalise your creation without difficulty if you have the talent.

The leaves have several uses. The type of leaf is ‘pinnate’, meaning ‘like a feather’. They remind us of the feathers of the eagle in Greek mythology, and so represent air and the realm of birds. They also symbolise courage, fighting for what is yours and retrieving lost items. They also symbolise earth (being part of a tree) and balance; just look at the symmetrical imagery in each leaf stem.

The flowers also represent balance as they are hermaphroditic, meaning each flower is both male and female. It is self-contained and independent. The flowers are white, the colour of creatures beyond the veil, contrasting with the fruit which is generally bright red, the visceral colour of our flesh and blood existence.

The bark is an ancient medicine and as such can symbolise knowledge, wisdom and healing. Grind it into an incense or place pieces on an altar to magnify the power of healing magic.

The root is not widely used, but as a sacred tree that fell from the heavens to earth, the root symbolises the link between earth and sky, and we can go further and understand that as the root draws water from the earth into the tree, it is a link between earth, water and sky. It is reminiscent of the great world tree, Yggdrasil, in that it links all the realms, although Yggdrasil is a true ash, rather than a mountain ash.

To complete the elemental quartet, the berries are our fire source. They are strongly associated with the sun, and so fire and the south. They remind us of passion, especially the passion to fight for what we believe in. They are attraction, desire, hunger and hunger fulfilled. They are the fruition of hopes and dreams. They are the driving force of ambition.

Overall, all parts of the rowan tree will protect you and reflect negativity and unwanted magical advances.

Throughout Celtic mythology the rowan tree is used again and again as a portent of magic or misdeed. The chariot of Mug Ruith, the blind druid of Munster, had axles made of rowan wood. Beguiling lips were described as ‘red as rowan berries’ in Togail Bruidne Dá Derga. In The Siege of Knocklong, the druid Cith Rua tells Cormac a druidic fire must be made with rowan sticks. These are a tiny selection of the many references throughout what remains of the Celtic tales. If you need any convincing of the magic of the rowan tree, these stories are definitely the place to look.

Home and Hearth



Image: Rowanberries and leaves in Helsinki Finland. Copyright Jonik, 2004 via Wikimedia.

At or around the autumn equinox, use a handful of rowan berries instead of a candle as your focus of meditation. If you pick them yourself, thank the tree and always leave a few berries for the birds to find. As well as feeding the birds, this helps spread the seeds so there will always be more Rowan trees.

Relax, and breathe normally. Focus on the berries and let their image fill your mind. Other thoughts will come and go. This is normal, don’t try not to think other thoughts as this is counterproductive. Just let the thoughts slide through your mind and either dismiss them or agree to return to them later.

If you find your eyes sliding shut, try visualise the berries in your mind. Remember their vivid colour, their perfect form and their smooth skin. Try to recall any flaws or pocks, and notice how this only makes them more gorgeous and vibrant.

As you dwell on the image of the berries, you may find other images popping into your head. Follow these images wherever they may take you.

When you leave the meditative state, breathe normally for a while, drink some water, and make a record of the images and thoughts that came to you. These will normally be of significance moving into the darker part of the year, and if you can’t interpret them right now, you will usually find clarity will come by Samhain. In times of stress, close your eyes and remember the perfect, round globes of the berries and how you felt when you were focused on them. Allow this peace and stillness to fill you, and push out the anxiety and worry.

I Never Knew…

Rowan berries apparently make an excellent wine! I look forward to testing this theory later in the year… Watch this space!

Notes from the Apothecary

September, 2015

Notes from the Apothecary: Garlic





Not strictly a herb, but in my apothecary, I make good use of whatever is to hand, and currently the garlic from the allotment is drying out nicely in my mother’s pantry.

Strongly associated with Hekate, garlic has held magical associations for thousands of years. From warding off the supernatural, to disinfecting rooms, the protective power of garlic has been recognised and revered throughout history.

The Kitchen Garden

Most of us know garlic for its smell and taste. It is the bulb of the plant that we most commonly use, although the green shoots that we see above the surface of the soil are also very tasty. Most often, the bulb is dried so that the papery outer skin can be peeled, revealing the glossy, white, oily flesh beneath. Garlic can also be eaten ‘wet’ or ‘green’, which means before it has been allowed to dry out. The flavour is milder, and the skin is somewhat waxy and I think it’s easier to peel off.

Garlic is a star flavour in cuisines from India to the Mediterranean and beyond. It is unique in that it compliments spice, sweetness and saltiness in equal measure.

Garlic is pretty easy to grow, and one clove (a segment of the bulb) should develop into a large bulb with many cloves. An added benefit to growing garlic is that it does discourage other pests from ransacking your garden!

flowering garlic

If you let the plant flower, you won’t be disappointed, as like most alliums, the flowers are beautiful; perfect, spiky globes.

The Apothecary

Garlic is readily available in pill form from most health food store as a supplement for those wishing to improve their cardio vascular health or boost their immune system. The only reason I can see for taking it this way is to avoid the bane of garlic breath! Or, obviously, if you simply don’t like the taste…

Our old friend, the Rosa Anglica, cites garlic as both useful and harmful for different ailments, although it is noted that garlic is mainly irritant in those that are not used to its strong flavour. In this herbal, garlic is mixed with salt to help reduce warts, and it is also indicated for those suffering with smallpox or related ‘pustules’. The same tome advises us to avoid garlic if experiencing lethargy, along with leeks and onions and any other substance that ‘increases phlegm’ in the body.

Some of this advice makes sense, as garlic has strong anti viral properties and is especially indicated for those suffering with chest complaints, to help boost the immune system and fight off infection.

The US National Library of Medicine tells us that further research in garlic is needed, but so far studies have discovered that the bulb reduces blood pressure in those with high blood pressure, but not in those with normal blood pressure. Garlic was also indicated as a possible preventer for colds, and even as a cholesterol reducer. In Korea, studies as recent as 2014 linked the high consumption of garlic to a reduced risk of prostate cancer.

It’s sad that not enough conclusive tests have been done to prove these theories beyond a doubt, but it’s clear that the plant has very real health benefits, and is a very good addition to anyone’s diet.

The Lab

As well as culinary and medical uses, garlic juice is also used in glass and porcelain work for sealing and gluing.

There is also now an insecticide which can be used for both crops and poultry which is derived from garlic. The benefit of this is it has no negative impact on the environment.

Garlic continues to retain its antimicrobial (bacteria fighting) properties at very high temperatures, and as such is ideal for helping to preserve food. It’s clear that this is why meat cooked in hot countries, such as India, often has large amounts of garlic in, as it stops the meat spoiling. Garlic is particularly potent when combined with cinnamon, which as well as being scientifically sound, sounds particularly yummy!

The Witch’s Kitchen

It’s time to look at garlic as a magical plant, although everything I have told you so far is sorcery in itself! What a practical bulb, with such diverse usefulness. Yet we have barely scratched the surface of the spiritual significance of garlic.

In popular culture, one of the most well known uses of garlic is to ward off vampires. Now I don’t expect you will be having any undead blood suckers on your doorstep anytime soon, but it is true that garlic is protective and cleansing, warding off negative energies.

Garlic cut and placed in a room will literally absorb any bad vibes and also literally absorbs bacteria, giving your space a full on cleansing. Onion is also useful for this, and either plant can be combined with lemon to boost the potency of the exercise.

Garlic is also thought, in some eastern cultures, to stimulate desire and passion, so you could work this into your magical work. Perhaps eat a meal including garlic to increase the libido before a hot night! Remember to work your intent into the food as you cook it.

Buddhism tells us that garlic distracts from meditation, which makes sense as it is a stimulant, both externally and internally. Islam also follows this, although from the more practical view point that the smell distracts from prayer.

As mentioned earlier, garlic is one of Hekate’s foods and should be offered to her during Deipnon, her feast at the dark moon. Offerings can be left on her altar, or at a crossroads, as she is the lady of the triple crossroads and will always find these offerings. Garlic should be served with other foods such as fish, eggs, almonds, honey or cakes including these. Traditionally, the food should be placed and one should walk away, never looking back to see who was eating. The Greek playwright Aristophanes noted that the offerings to Hekate were often eaten by the poor and homeless; something I personally believe Hekate would have found very just.

The juice of garlic can be used to cleanse your magical items, such as an athame, to dispel negative energy and boost your own intent. Wipe the blade in the juice then follow your own consecration or cleansing routines. I would normally leave the item in the light of the full moon, then cleanse it again with incense, a candle flame, water and salt or earth.

Garlic is also protective against those trying to harm you, particularly those who are trying to de-energise you or weaken you somehow. In this way, it is excellent protection against vampires- the psychic kind, anyway.

Home and Hearth

In the corner of each room, at the new moon, place a pot with a cut clove of garlic or a cut onion and a cut lemon. Think about how you wish your space to be your own, and imagine dirt and discomfort being sucked away. Clean the rooms and leave the pot until the full moon. At the full moon, the time of things coming to fruition, remove the pots and dispose of the garlic and lemon either by burying or burning (safely!). Do not use these fruit and veg as offerings in anyway. They are now full of germs and harmful energies and need to be removed from your home. Open the windows and let cleansing air into your rooms. Your home should feel lighter, more pleasant and safe.

Alternatively, you can run this spell from new moon to dark moon, which is more effective if you have a specific dark energy to expel, as the dark moon is a powerful time for exorcism and banishment.

I Never Knew…

Apparently garlic can be used to kill tree stumps. Instead of opting for harsh chemicals, drill some holes in the stump and insert garlic cloves, then cover with wood filler and soil. The garlic releases chemicals into the stump that prevent the regrowth of the tree. Bizarre, but apparently effective!