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Tag Archives: herbalism

Apothecary Flashcards, by Nicola McIntosh

Apothecary Flashcards: A Pocket Reference Explaining Herbs and Their Medicinal Uses, by Nicola McIntosh
Rockpool Publishing, 1922785776, 42 pages, December 2023

I love learning about herbs, but I am the first to admit I struggle to keep track of all their medicinal properties! Apothecary Flashcards: A Pocket Reference Explaining Herbs and Their Medicinal Uses by Nicole McIntosh is absolutely perfect for staying organized, studying herbs, and looking up quick information. Even better, these cards have images that aid with identifying plants in the natural world.

These cards are 2.5 inches squares that fit easily inside your palm. They come with a ring that you can link through them to make it a flip deck. The rounded corners make it comfortable to hold – no sharp edges here! They are a great size for carrying on-the-go. And the font is a good reading size, whether you hold the cards near or far away from yourself.

McIntosh is an artist, herbalist, and Celtic Shamanism practitioner. She focuses on establishing a deep connection with nature in her work with the aim of spreading peace and love. For those who are interested in learning more about preparing botanicals at home, her book Plant Spirit Medicine is a great resource. Other decks she has published include Mushroom Spirit Oracle, Celtic Spirit Oracle, and Crystal Grid Oracle.

In introduction Apothecary Flashcards, McIntosh writes:

“The world of herbal medicine awaits you, and there you will find a whole apothecary at your fingertips.”1

There are forty herbs in this deck. The front of each card is an image of the herb, while the back of the card has all the pertinent information about it. McIntosh shares the botanical name, part of the herb used for the remedy (root, leaves, stem, etc.), actions of the herb, medicinal uses, and methods it can be prepared for a home remedy. The last piece of information is a caution, sharing advisement about when the herb should not be used.

The action section contains words that might be unfamiliar to some, such as “adaptogen” or “renal tonic”, but luckily, McIntosh had the foresight to include four deck slides, Points to know, defining what the actions do. For instance, adaptogens “help the body deal with stress”, while renal tonic “builds and tones the kidneys.”2 The list of actions is a great way to become familiar with the terms as one studies the impact of herbs on the body.

There is also one card following the Points to know, which is Terms used. These range from aerial parts, “the parts of the plant that grow above the ground”, to UTI, “urinary tract infection”.3 With all of these clarifications, it becomes exceedingly apparent that McIntosh cares about details and want to ensure the information she is convey is accurately understood.

The way the deck is on a ring makes it easy to flip back and forth between the herb card and the action card to look it up. Everything is organized alphabetically: Points to Know, Terms used, and the herbs in the deck.

Recently, I’ve been reading a book about the Melissae, the bee priestesses who oversaw the Eleusinian Mysteries. The author of the book was inspired to learn more about them after becoming curious about the botanical name of Lemon Balm, Melissa officialis, and researching to discover these long-forgotten yet high-ranking priestesses of Ancient Greece. This made me curious to see what McIntosh wrote about medicinal properties of Lemon Balm, so it was the first cared I flipped to in the deck.

From McIntosh, I learned Lemon Balm is antiviral, sedative, diaphoretic, and carminative (you bet your bottom dollar that I was flipping to Points to know for those last two words!). The medicinal uses of Lemon Balm including treating herpes (topically), depression, and IBS (another term defined on the Terms used card). For a home remedies, McIntosh writes it can be infused to make a tea or tincture to take internally or used in a poultice to put direct on skin.

Lemon Balm is surprisingly one of the only herbs that does not have a caution. And for me personally, the cautions are the most important part since herbal remedies can be a hurtful as they are healing if not used properly. For instance, Sage is toxic in large amounts, while Schisandra and quite a few other herbs in the deck are not to be used during pregnancy. Once again, McIntosh is specific, writing “should not be used during the acute phase of an infection/cold”4 for the herb Astragalus.

Overall, Apothecary Flashcards is a wonderful reference when making herbal remedies. The organization and detail make them true time-savers, and their nice size makes them easy to keep on hand or nicely stored in one’s own apothecary. Whether you use them for brushing up on your own knowledge or to identify herbs outside, this deck is a wonderful resource for guidance.

The Treadwell’s Book of Plant Magic, by Christina Oakley Harrington

The Treadwell’s Book of Plant Magic, by Christina Oakley Harrington
Weiser Books, 1578638011, 176 pages, April 2023

There are a lot of books on the market that will tell you about plants in various terms: how to identify, where they originate from, and what their uses are. The Treadwell’s Book of Plant Magic by Christina Oakley Harrington goes one step further. This book is pure magic and should be on everyone’s shelf regardless of their personal or spiritual beliefs. Harrington, the founder and guiding light of the renowned occult bookshop Treadwell’s Books located in London, UK has brought the same level of care to this book that she has to the shop. I am in awe of this book.

Harrington has made it incredibly easy to find specific plants by sorting the book into three glorious sections. Titled “Problems and Solutions”, the first section is what would be expected from such a thorough compilation: an alphabetical listing of various maladies ranging from anxiety, money, protection, and so on with the corresponding herb(s) that will assist. This is meant to be a quick reference guide for those who are familiar with herbs and just need a refresher. The book assumes a working knowledge of plants and how to deal with them, as little to no instruction is provided on the basics such as growing, harvesting, and the like. It feels like this is a deliberate choice to ensure that those who use the book already have a healthy respect for the plants that they choose to work with and aren’t just looking for a speedy way out of a mess.

The middle section has no title and jumps right to providing in-depth information about herbs and plants. The book is worth the price just for the section on uses of Bay alone. Almost three whole pages are devoted to the herb and for good reason. Bay is the lavender of the herb family in that there are many ways to use it in both cooking and spiritual work. Included in each distinct method of usage is a ton of information on the herb itself that just isn’t present in other books. Like I said, worth the price right there. I have plenty of books on plants and their uses and this one book replaces all of them.

The last section is why we are all here: “Spells and Potions Using Multiple Herbs”. Where do I even start? This section is an absolute tribute to anyone working with plants and herbs in their practice in that the assumption of having basic knowledge is apparent. There is no how-to on how to make Marygolde water; it’s assumed the reader knows. Personally, I love this way of presenting information as I find some books on this specific subject spend far too many pages giving information that can be easily looked up on the internet. Many books claim to be resource books but end up masquerading as something far more basic than what the tag line says. This book is the opposite.

The spells contained in this section are not carved in stone; there is an understanding that the reader will take what they need and leave the rest. Using herbs and plants in personal spell work is not like using herbs and plants in cooking: there is no recipe to follow here, only guidelines. The book incorporates the generally accepted uses of all the plants and herbs mentioned, making it universal so there’s no need to undertake additional research on what rue can be used for. 

To be clear, there are no “recipes” for potions, only a general suggestion as to how one might go about crafting it for their own use. While there are instances of direction being provided in some cases, for the most part it’s assumed that the reader is familiar with basic applications such as making herbal blends and diffusing them. 

Should you pick up The Treadwell’s Book of Plant Magic if you’ve never held an herb in your life? YES. We all need to start somewhere and this book, while not providing introductory information on how to work in this realm of magic, will give you an abundance of information about the tools used to craft within this sphere. 

Hermetic Herbalism, by Jean Maveric

Hermetic Herbalism: The Art of Extracting Spagyric Essences, by Jean Mavéric, edited and translated by R. Bailey
Inner Traditions, 1620559857, 234 pages, May 2020

I was first drawn to Hermetic Herbalism: The Art of Extracting Spagyric Essences by Jean Mavéric (in a new translation by R. Bailey) because of my fascination with the very subject described by the title: the influence of hermetic thought on the history of the use of plants for maintaining health. I thought it would be a practical guide to a little-known form of herbalism that has recently gained in popularity, and that I would learn how to make spagyric essences. I had no idea that, in addition to a hermetic guide to plant preparations, I would be getting a fascinating compendium of herbal lore, with lists of properties, correspondences, and suggested remedies, from the theory of the humors to the plants and the planets.

Clearly a product of the 19th century’s renewed interest in all things magical, and the desire of scholars of that time to be as complete and scientific as possible, the book, originally published in French in 1911, feels at first like an arcane encyclopedia. A concise foreword by the translator paves the way for understanding just where the author, in all his own mystery, was coming from. As we start to read, we can picture the mysterious Jean Mavéric in his garret, surrounded by old books. Yet the author explains that the book is not a “mere compilation,” but there for the reader to extract its “quintessence.”1

Reading it is its own alchemical process, and the author guides the reader well from the beginning of this voyage. Hermetic Herbalism thus does more than supply a summary of its subject matter; it offers a glimpse of the magical revival of the 19th century and how writers of the time sought to preserve and share esoteric knowledge, transmitted in premodern times by Paracelsus and his followers.

A basic knowledge of hermeticism and astrology comes in handy for a reader starting to travel with Mavéric, yet like any good French scholar, he begins with a discussion of the terms he will be using, so newer scholars of the hermetic arts are not left too far behind. As he separates the subject matter into short, digestible chapters, the reader can also perceive how the elements, the planets, the humors and the plants interconnect, leading up to an understanding of astrological herbalism and how to read a natal chart.

Mavéric details how to map the planets onto the body according to hermetic correspondences, offering some questions for the student of astrology to ponder. I really appreciated the detail to be found here, including the relationships between the planets, the elements, the humors and the body’s functions. I better understand, for example, why my capacity to act can sometimes feel blocked since Mars lives in the sixth house in my natal chart, one of the houses that Mavéric says most influences our vitality. I feel that I know the planets better and can thus better assess how I am feeling their influence at any given time.

 His discussion of the houses also clarified the relationships of each one to the others and also the whole. Not all of his explanations on how to analyze a natal chart were clear to me, and I found myself thinking that I would want to follow up with a teacher on how, for example, to locate the astrological sign that represents the head in someone’s natal chart. Beware, it isn’t always Aries! Finding someone’s “astral temperament”2 also requires a more complex set of calculations than I could figure out, but I know I can return to these finer points after further study.

Part two deals with the more practical matters of premodern herbalism: the fires, vessels, and processes required to extract the “juices” and salts of plants according to class. Reading it, I wondered if I would ever be able to try any of these preparations. My conclusion was that I would definitely need a mentor — too bad I can’t visit Mavéric in his laboratory. Plus, all of the preparations take time — thirty or forty days, the “philosophical month.”3

I wish I had gotten the book a little earlier, during lockdown, when I really would have had the time to digest it, and that I knew where to order an alembic. But whether you are reading the book for practical application or theoretical investigation, Marvéric supplies you with the raw material to engage in the beginnings of your own mental fermentation on the topic. In the meantime, I’m dreaming of distilling rainwater and dissolving salts, wondering how this all may be a metaphor for my own evolution. 

In conclusion, I think Hermetic Herbalism will be a useful companion during my study of both herbs and astrology, allowing me to deepen how I understand the interaction between the two. The astrological calculations described are quite complex, but give me something to look forward to as I continue my reading of the stars and the planets in relation to the Earth. All I need is some more “practice, patience and perspicacity”!4 I look forward to further translations of esoteric French works from this period by R. Bailey, who combines careful and clear translations with in-depth notes and references on the author’s sources that the original work lacks. The indexes (of common plant names, scientific plant names, authors, and subjects) and bibliography will make this book an important volume in my herbal library. 

Enchanted Herbal, by Gail Bussi

Enchanted Herbal: Connect to Nature & Celebrate the Seasons, by Gail Bussi
Llewellyn Publications, 0738766119, 288 pages, December 2020

Living seasonally is a very important part of my spiritual practice. The best ways to connect with the seasons that I’ve learned over the years are practices that keep me grounded, such as cooking, journaling, and self-care. Though I’ve been living this lifestyle for quite some time, I have been delightfully surprised by all the inspiration offered by Gail Bussi in Enchanted Herbal: Connect to Nature & Celebrate the Seasons. This book is handy, practical, and filled with wisdom for all the seasons. Reading it just through Winter thus far, I’ve already felt a shift that deepened my mind-body-spirit connection to the season. I’ve also had lots of fun trying out new recipes and learning about seasonal herbs.

Immediately I resonated with Bussi’s words, “Each season brings its own gifts, lessons, opportunities, and sometimes challenges — but I believe nature also offers us the remedy for these challenges if we are open to connecting with her each and every day of the year.”1 By participating in the energy of the seasons, adjusting our routines accordingly, there is wisdom to be gained from the natural cycles of the Earth. Bussi’s writing nurtures the reader and enhances feelings of being calm and centered throughout the seasons. With this book in hand, I feel ready for all the shifts in nature through the year.

The book starts with Spring and moves along in seasonal order to end with Winter. Every season is divided into sections: Heart Notes, Create, Nurture, Grow, and Taste. The way this compendium of seasonal knowledge is organized makes it easy to find just what you’re looking for, whether it be general information about the time of the year, a scrumptious recipe, or an idea for a creative project. Enchanted Herbal has it all — simple practices to connect with the energy of the season, gardening tips, homemade body products, and a wide array of tasty delights.

What I like most about Enchanted Herbal is that it is a very hands-on book. Reading it makes one want to partake in the seasonal energy through the wide variety of projects, creative suggestions, and cooking ideas that Bussi offers. My initiative was ignited, but in the most soothing and centered way, as I am reading it during winter which is the “do nothing” season. The promptings to bake, cook, or partake in self-care felt very intuitive. I would feel called to try this recipe, or steep that tea, and the experience of reading through the book over the course of a few weeks yielded a Juniper Cleansing Mist, Eucalyptus and Jasmine Foot Soak, and dinner of Stir-Fry Brussel Sprouts with Bacon, Pecans, and Garlic (yum!).

Even though I only partook in Winter activities, I did read through the other seasons and got very excited for all the things I wanted to try out. My mouth was joyfully anticipating some of the recipes in the book, such as Chocolate Mint Pots, Fireside Mushroom Soup, Pumpkin Fritters with Sage, and Spicy Coconut Chicken. It’s worth noting that Bussi previously ran a catering company and has published a cookbook, so she truly knows her stuff when it comes to food! Furthermore, there are even recipes for enticing beverages – to name a few: Spring Morning Tea, Coconut Tumeric Latte, and Dandelion Wine.

Some other ideas inspired by Enchanted Herbal are planting an astrological garden, creating a nature mandala, and practicing the art of foraging. I’m very much looking forward to Spring now that I have this book to guide me into new ways to attune to nature and celebrate the season. I am already intending to create the Spring Morning Toner, which uses all the natural ingredients to refresh the skin, and Lemon Verbena Massage Oil that can be used for the skin or dropped into a bath. I’m pacing myself, but it’s tempting to not hold off on all the Summer recipes (Tri-Colore Tomato Salad!) and self-care DIY projects (Peaceful Nights Pillow Mist, After-Sun Soothing Tub) I’m eager to try out! 

Bussi has filled each season with so many ways to engage with the herbs that the reader has room to pick and choose as they feel called, coming back over the course of a long while to perhaps finally try it all. This is definitely a book that you will reference back to many times through the year, as the recipes are worth repeating and the instructions for projects like creating essential oils, foot scrubs, and aloe vera gel will always come in handy. It is a wonderful book to begin your herbal journey of healing and self-nurturance.

All elements of my being felt supported when reading Enchanted Herbal, as it truly teaches how to tend to one’s self with love and care to become more aligned with the natural energy of the year. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys cooking, DIY projects, or gardening that wants to further deepen their connection to the energy of the seasons. There’s magic in these everyday activities, and Bussi teaches the reader how to find joy throughout the year by living in harmony with the seasons.