Welcome to the Order of the Sacred Star! This Pagan/Wiccan group, based in Winnipeg, Canada, is committed to teaching the Craft to all those who wish to learn. Our goal is to provide a complete and fulfulling learning experience. Our public classes are offered through the Winnipeg Pagan Teaching Circle.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Herbology: Whole Herb or Extraction?

I'm often asked we should bother with recipes and decoctions, with tinctures and poultices, when we can simply eat the herbs in question to get the desired results. Well, there's a problem with that particular approach. It's true that if you eat an awful lot of a certain herb, some of its healing properties may be imparted to you, but you'd have to practically eat yourself sick to get enough of the herb. Also, some of the active ingredients in the herbs simply will not pass into your system through ingestion.

Okay, so we can't always just eat the herbs we'd like to use. But why are there so many preparation methods? Why can't we just always brew a tea, or burn the herbs so that we inhale the active ingredients? Again, these methods work fine for some herbs but are useless for others. If the active ingredient you need isn't water soluble, a tea isn't going to help. A tincture, which uses alcohol to extract the active ingredients, might. As for using smoke, this only works for a few specific herbs and it's no good at all for anyone who can't inhale smoke (like my entire family).

The Pagan community often works on the premise that if it feels right, it is right. This is a dangerous idea when it comes to herbs because herbs are really a little more scientific. Does it feel right to use the plant in your backyard to cure your headaches? Oops, that was nightshade. Unless you understand the dosage and extraction method of nightshade, you could be in real trouble. It is poisonous, after all.

It is vitally important that you understand an herbs properties and the forms in which it is safe to administer. Some herbs are fine to ingest, but toxic when inhaled. Others are safe to inhale, but will give you a blistering rash if applied to the skin. And there are a few herbs that are safe to ingest as tinctures but toxic as teas. Knowledge of the herb as a whole is necessary before you begin working with any plant.

As an example of this, consider cinnamon. It's a common herb in both spellcraft and cooking, so you're highly likely to use it often. It can be used during ritual baths by adding the whole herb to your bath. It can be used in cooking in its powdered or shaved form. Its oil can be used to anoint candles and other items. But if you put the powdered version in your bath, you'll have a mess on your hands. Add the oil to your bath (or apply it directly to the skin) and you'll burn yourself. Add the whole form (or even the shaved form) to your candles during recipes and you'll start a fire.

Basil is another example. In its dried form, you can use it for money spells. Its fresh form can be rubbed on beestings to lessen irritation. But the dried form doesn't help beestings at all, while the fresh form can be used in spells if you like.

As you can see, you can't always take the easiest route. If a recipe calls for the oil form of an herb and you use the dried form, you may not get the results you desire. Easy doesn't always equal best, so tread with care. Study the herbs you'd like to use to best discover what method of herbal preparation is best suited for your purposes.

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