SPOOKY GOOD HERBS, THE THIRD
Welcome to the third installment of a column wherein we explore the magical and medicinal properties of certain herbs, as well as the space where magic and medicine and just plain taking care of plants intertwines. There is much to explore in the weird world in which veils wear thin and plants tickle at the interminable space which our hands, minds, and mouths cannot explore all by themselves.
Louisiana Goldenrod (Solidago ludoviciana)
We may as well start here as goldenrod is peaking and blooming all around New Orleans right now, in early autumn. A native to pretty much all of North America, I’m not about to tell you that you can’t grow goldenrod yourself; but honestly, it grows so abundantly of its own volition that foraging for it makes more sense than growing it on your own, especially if you’re working it for magic and medicine. Most people who profess professionalism in those fields can attest that wildcrafted plants are preferable to those forced to grow where we want them to.
Medicinally, goldenrod is best known for bestowing golden-shower-adjacent blessings on those in need, helping with many urinary tract issues, battling overactive bladders, healing kidneys, and lessening the severity of kidney stones. The top bits of the plant are best to use, especially the flowers, or all above-ground parts, so long as it’s harvested while in bloom. Make a tincture or make a tea to help your body with issues around pee.
Magically, goldenrod is also all about making it rain. Where it is seen growing, gold is said to be hidden, literally or metaphorically. If you see it growing near your home, you are about to come into luck, generally of the material sort. Goldenrod stems are also said to make for great dowsing rods for finding water sources.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
I would attest that simply by growing this herb at all you are performing healthy and magical acts for yourself, because it is just about the easiest herb to grow ever at all, period. Watching it thrive in your garden will bring magic to your day and a positive bent to your mental health simply by being a plant that you were able to help grow and thrive with ease and beauty. As above, so below and all that. This lovely yellow green mint relative will grow almost anywhere, almost anytime, and it smells good and keeps mosquitoes away.
Like most herbs, lemon balm has many purported health benefits, but is best known as a calming agent. It works against cold sores, insomnia, and indigestion as well, which, as far as I’m concerned, are essentially all caused by, or at least intrinsically interwoven with, anxiety and stress. Also, its capacity to keep mosquitoes away with its aromatic oils is extremely calming, as being bitten by a mosquito is absolutely stress inducing.
While many witchy herbs purport to help one attract love, very rarely does an herb’s main potency lie in its power to push love away, or more specifically, to get over the grief and heartbreak of lost love. Even its more subtly stated powers revolve around this gift. Lemon balm encourages cleansing and the erasure of dark, empty feelings. Separately but in a similar vein, it can be used to fortify one’s will and tenacity to help move past difficult times. It cleanses and encourages the joys found in oneself and oneself alone (well, in oneself in partnership with lemon balm itself). It helps to provide clarity and wisdom to make intelligent choices for the self and for the heart. And yeah, it can also be used in a love potion to make you all seductive and sexy feeling when you’re ready to slut it up and get over whatever’s eating you.
Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora)
We are speaking here of the skullcap native to the Americas as opposed to the Chinese one, because, well, here we are. They are both potent potions but actually treat different ailments, being different plants and all. It’s a beautiful blue flower that resembles colonial-era military helmets, hence the name. I know we all wish it was spookier and just straight-up looked like a skull, but the name alone will have to carry its creepy season weight.
At one point this herb was purportedly the one and only cure for rabies, but, turns out, we actually still don’t have one of those. That said, it got this reputation because on the spectrum of nerve-calming herbs this one goes hard. Before pharmaceuticals came along, and outside of opioids, this was the one nerve tonic to rule them all. It also helps encourage menstruation and effectively eases premenstrual breast pain.
Opposing lemon balm powers of release, this herb is used magically very specifically as a binding agent. Less than a love agent, more than a lust agent, it is used to encourage fidelity and honesty—to bind people together. It is used to ensure that contracts in both business and love are honored. Obviously this is an ethically tricky herb to use in the magical world, what with loving something and setting it free and the rule of three and all that. But do what thou wilt.
Bay Leaf (Laurus nobilis)
First off, I know we don’t all have the ability to just grow trees where we want willy-nilly. But if you do, this is such an easy tree to grow in New Orleans, and it grows big. And if you grow it, nobody you know and love will ever have to pay for bay leaves again. I mean it. You should do it. Because, medicinal and magical properties aside, if you’ve ever cooked without a microwave in your life, you’ve probably cooked with bay leaves.
Bay leaves are chock full of nutrients. Adding them to food doesn’t just add flavor—that one little leaf you throw into a meal adds significant amounts of vitamin A, vitamin B6, and vitamin C, all of which are great for the immune system. It’s also full of antioxidants and other nutrients, and is great on the stomach, which is why cross-culturally you see it added to legume-heavy dishes consistently. As much as humanity depends on beans across the world, our stomachs kind of hate them, and the bay leaves that accompany them go a long way towards easing that magical-fruit-magical-toot business.
Bay leaves are Manifestation’s poster child herb. Capital M style. Depending on which witch you are arguing with, all magic is about manifesting the reality you want to see in the world. But bay leaf is like, easy peasy The Secret™ manifestation-style manifestation. This isn’t to say its powers aren’t extremely real; bay leaves have been lauded as connecting devices to the psychic realm of getting what you want since early Roman Empire days at the very least, hence bay laurel crowns and all that, essentially worn as the opposite of tinfoil hats when it comes to opening the brain to the weird psychic waves floating out there in the world. Still, modern post-new-age health-and-wealth gurus have perhaps given these leaves too much power as plants you can simply scrawl your desires upon with a sharpie and see it all come into being. That said, they definitely make you fart less, and who does not want to manifest this?
The veil is thin. Grow food and dig in. What wonders await, whether alimentary, culinary, apothecary, or enchantmentary? Pull yourself towards them and put them into you and watch the infinite mystery of where what ends and who begins unravel before your very eyes. The next time you wake up after casting chaos spells upon the spooky streets in the eerie hours of the night, consider herbs over pharmaceuticals to knock out the hangxiety. Either way, the power is yours.