Book Review – The Poison Path Herbal: Baneful Herbs, Medicinal Nightshades, and Ritual Entheogens by Coby Michael

Book Review

The Poison Path Herbal: Baneful Herbs, Medicinal Nightshades, and Ritual Entheogens

by Coby Michael

Published by Park Street Press

256 pages

Publication date: October 26, 2021




Despite the abundance of herbal literature available today, it’s still hard to find accurate information on those plants whose physiological effects are dangerous and potent. It’s easy to see why: many authors don’t want to assume any responsibility for what readers might do with this information, nor do publishers. And so, instead of tackling the challenge these plants present, they write them off entirely, give them the label “poison,” and only explore their attributes in order to identify and avoid them. This is probably why “The Poison Path Herbal” begins with an explicit warning to approach these plants, and the information in this book, with caution and care. With poisons, the danger is real, and so is the medicine; and as Coby Michael explores throughout the book, both aspects are important parts of how these plants are used magically. 

Part one, “What is the Poison Path?” starts off by defining some of the terms used in the book and laying out a basic approach to the Poison Path. Readers will learn about entheogens, baneful herbs, and the ideology and best practices of the Poison Path. This part also explores the history of baneful herbs and separates some fact from fiction about the flying ointments used by witches in the Middle Ages. These transdermal potions were used to vilify not only the witches who used them, but the plants themselves, and Michael explores several formulations from contemporary authors. There is an emphasis on Solanaceae throughout the book due to their extensive history of use and association with witchcraft, but many other poisonous plants are mentioned as well.

Part two, “The Three Ways of the Poison Path” explores three pathways of planetary influence which govern many poisonous plants. These associations are based primarily in planetary magic with roots in Egyptian, Hellenic, and Kabbalistic mysticism, along with the related practices of alchemy and astrology. The Three Ways discussed in this part relate specifically to the influences of Saturn, Venus, and Mercury, and this section includes various spells and formulations which explore the energetic relationship between the planets and the plants. This part also includes detailed, in-depth profiles of each plant which discuss important information such as alkaloid content, methods of preparation, rituals involving the plants, history, and folklore.

Part three, “The Poison Path in Practice” has two chapters. The first delves into specific information about dosing and formulation, as well as methods of creating poison concoctions. This is the kind of information that many existing books about these poisons omit, and it is laced with many warnings, but the inclusion of this information gives a good introduction to dosing practices. The second chapter offers instruction in an area that is likely to be of interest to the most dedicated practitioners of poison craft: growing a poison garden. The poisons can be tricky to grow, but Coby Michael speaks with the invaluable voice of experience in this area, as throughout the book.

To say that I was excited to receive this book was an understatement. I suspect that most people who are interested in the Poison Path will already be familiar with Coby Michael’s work, as I was; going in, I expected it to be a good book. Somehow, though, it still exceeded my expectations, owing mostly to the matter-of-fact style and dense presentation of valuable information. 

The Poison Path is a niche area within the practice of herbalism, and accordingly, “The Poison Path Herbal” is a specialized book for herbalists who wish to know the plant poisons better, work with them, and practice magically with them. Many herbalists won’t touch these plants, but for those who are drawn to the plants that Coby Michael discusses in this book, it is truly an invaluable resource. Poisonous herbalism is an area where the voice of experience and practice is desperately needed; here, Coby Michael delivers, blending together science, history, magic, mythology, and witchcraft, and providing a valuable entry into working with these powerful and mystical plants to the adventurous herbalist. 

Coby Michael is a practitioner of the Poison Path of occult herbalism and a cultivator of entheogenic herbs. He contributes to the Pagan Archives at Valdosta University, writes regularly for The House of Twigs, and maintains a blog, Poisoner’s Apothecary, on Patheos Pagan. He teaches classes and online workshops on plant magic, baneful herbs, and traditional witchcraft. He lives in St. Petersburg, Florida.


The Poison Path Herbal on Amazon


About the author:

Sarah McMenomy is a visionary artist, author, and witch. Pulling inspiration from trance states, dreams, auras, psychedelia, and the natural world, she weaves together themes of nature and the occult in her artwork and writing. She has created art and written for books, magazines, games, and more, as well as producing digital fine art prints and acrylic paintings. 
She is the creator of The Entanglement Tarot, a hex-shaped occult Tarot deck designed for spell-craft. 
She is co-runner of Pagan Pages, for which she also writes articles and book reviews, and she also publishes art on her Portfolio site and other work on her Tumblr.