Herbalism is not my forte, but I’ve had a little bit of training in it, and so I wanted to take the opportunity to review The Witching Herbs: 13 Essential Plants and Herbs for Your Magical Garden by Harold Roth. What I found interesting is that the number 13 shows up a lot in different contexts throughout occult literature; the coursework on herbalism I did talked about 13 essential herbs as well, but the two works only had one in common: Mugwort. The other plants and herbs Roth presents in this book include poppy, clary sage, yarrow, rue, hyssop, vervain, wormwood, thornapple, wild tobacco, henbane, belladonna, and mandrake.

Herbs are a way of life for Roth, and it’s clear right from the outset of this book. Working with plants, Roth says, is a long-term effort where even when they don’t grow like they should, or don’t provide the results you were expecting, you’ll almost learn more than from your successes.

Each chapter is divided up into three parts. Lore provides background information on each plant, including planetary rulerships; any meanings given to the plant regarding the shape of its leaves and other folklore; and information that provides detail on the “spirit of the plant”. Practice talks about different projects you can do with the herb. Finally, In the Garden shows you how to grow the herb from start to finish.

The breadth of Roth’s knowledge is really clear from this work, as important notes that separate the novice herbalist from the master are liberally sprinkled throughout. This is excellent, as some of the herbs Roth includes can be toxic. I know I had a little frisson of fear when I saw belladonna on the list, for example. And if I follow Roth’s advice, I shouldn’t work with belladonna myself as fear can aggravate some of the effects, something I never would have considered.

Roth provides a wide variety of different projects in the book, and several for each of the aforementioned herbs. Ointments, tinctures, inks, incenses, and cakes are just a few of them. They all include step-by-step instructions, as well as any warnings about the herb. Clary sage, for example, should not be used with people who have estrogen-promoted cancers as it can promote hormone production.

Even though I’m a debutante when it comes to herbs and plants, I learned a ton from this book; as such, if herbalism is your passion, you’ll want to have a copy on your shelf. It’s great for novices, but I strongly suspect that if you’ve got more than a few months of herbalism study under your belt, you’ll receive an even greater benefit.
~review by John Marani

Author: Harold Roth
Weiser Books
pp. 263, $18.95 US