Book Review – Icelandic Plant Magic: Folk Herbalism of the North by Albert Björn

Book Review

Icelandic Plant Magic:
Folk Herbalism of the North

by Albert Björn

Publisher: Crossed Crow Books

Pages: 306

Rerelease Date: June 27, 2023


There are, without a doubt, plenty of books out there on magical herbalism or green witchery. However, this is the first I have spotted specifically singling out the herbs of Iceland in a magical context. As the author notes, while the mysterious-seeming country of Iceland offers many folk tales and hidden beings, the plants of the island aren’t usually picked out as a point of interest. Albert Björn Shiell has neatly corrected that oversight with this animistic, practical, and beautiful book.

This book is laid out in four main sections: an introductory segment which includes notes on animism, how to gather plants, and some information on the Icelandic days of the week. There is also a glossary section listing herbs and fungi, plus useful Icelandic terms; a section on recipes, and a spell book.

The spells are split into protection, healing, luck (including gambling and theft), money and love, spirit work, and prayers.

Albert encourages all practitioners to consider working with local plant spirits, to get in tune with the local ecology and gain a greater kinship with their surroundings. He points out that many of the Icelandic plants are available elsewhere in Northern Europe, and this allows practitioners to draw on methods both old and new, local and far-flung, to enhance their plant magic skills. Albert also points out the need for critical thinking in an oversaturated “knowledge base” provided by the vast volume of information and misinformation circulating right now about magic and witchcraft.

This book veers away from the all-too-common bodging together of witchcraft and magic “facts” that are often available via TikTok and, instead, comes directly from actual Icelandic practitioners and the author’s own experiences.

My Recommendation

Any book or author on anything vaguely Norse or Heathenry-adjacent has to pass the “Is it actually alt-right nonsense” test. This book, and the author, pass with flying colours. This isn’t the reviewer being patronising; runes, Icelandic and other Scandinavian symbols, and even the Gods themselves have all been co-opted by some fairly unpleasant types over recent decades. Respectable authors can find themselves being quoted out of context to support white supremacist ideals. However, I was delighted to see that the author publicly takes an anti-racist, anti-Nazism stand, which is fantastic.

Now, onto the book.

I love it. I love the immediate connections between the people in the North of Scotland (not too far from my home), Iceland, Ireland, and other Nordic countries. I love the crossover of these cultures and how the author approaches this. I love the glance into a syncretic practice of Christianity and older beliefs, and how that’s now blending with modern magical techniques.

Obviously, I love plants too! I write the regular herbal column for this ezine, and it so happens that I’m actually about a year into learning basic Icelandic, a language I’m becoming very fond of. My son is heading out to Iceland just before Samhain this year, and to say I’m envious is an understatement! This book has allowed me to get a glimpse of what lies over the sea to the northwest of me, what might be growing there, waiting to be touched, smelled; even tasted. It’s joyous to learn that 31 plants are protected in Iceland, and Albert is keen to stress that foragers of legal plants should only take what they need. There’s a very eco-sound vibe to this volume; a sense that using plants lends more potency to your magic when you consider the impact your gathering has on the overall ecosystem.

The book carefully highlights plants that are toxic, plants that could cause irritation or light sensitivity, and notes that allergies can come out of nowhere! There is so much care and thought put into this book in order to make it a practical volume for anyone wanting to actually start using plants or enhance their existing knowledge of magical herbalism.

I think my favourite aspect of this book is the sheer level of detail on aspects of Icelandic culture I knew nothing about. Learning that some plants will be ineffectual if someone knows you are using them, and that different days of the week have specific Icelandic associations, for example, has been another fantastic way to get to know more about Iceland and its magical practices.

There are a lot of plants covered in the glossaries section, and the information contains planetary correspondences, Icelandic folklore and language notes, magical properties, and more. The spell book is rich in lore, and notes on how Icelandic folk magic is very different in many ways to some Neopagan magical practices—although, everything in the book is completely accessible to anyone.

This book is a great resource, a fantastic read, and genuinely very useful to anyone with an interest in herbalism or practical witchcraft. I’ll be returning to this one time and again. In the meantime, I have an appointment with a holey stone I found and some carefully foraged herbs.

About the Author

As well as writing about Icelandic magic, Albert teaches classes on the subject, including dream magic, shapeshifting, and other topics. These are all available via his website and online shop, Pellar Crafts. The site also offers custom jewelery and ritual items, made to order in Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland. All the handcrafted products contain herbs, plants, or other materials grown or foraged in Iceland.

Albert is also the author of the forthcoming Icelandic Folk Magic: Witchcraft of the North, coming November 2024. Find out more on his Instagram.


Icelandic Plant Magic on Amazon



About the Author:

Mabh Savage is a Pagan author, poet and musician, as well as a freelance journalist and content creator. She’s a nature-based witch, obsessed with Irish and British Paganism and Folklore, plus she’s a massive plant nerd. She’s also a long-time Hekate devotee and a newbie Lokean. She works extensively with the UK Pagan Federation, including editing their bi-annual children’s magazine. Mabh is a passionate environmentalist and an advocate for inclusiveness and positive social transformation.

Mabh is the author of A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors,  Pagan Portals – Celtic Witchcraft: Modern Witchcraft Meets Celtic Ways, and most recently, Practically Pagan: An Alternative Guide to Planet Friendly Living. Search “Mabh Savage” on Spotify and @Mabherick on all socials.