Post for week 4 in Pagan Blog Project: B II: Baneful Herbs
In modern witchcraft, “baneful herbs” are herbs traditionally associated with ill will and are often very toxic. These are poisons that should not be handled by anyone who is inexperienced in magick and/or herbalism. These herbs are dangerous and unpredictable both physically in their toxins acting on our bodies and spiritually. Many of these herbs contain alkaloids, which when ingested cause unpredictable results among individuals. These herbs should not be ingested or smoked under any circumstances. When growing or handling these herbs I recommend wearing gloves. All parts of these plants for the most part are toxic to humans and many animals. If you choose to work with these herbs, please be extremely careful.
The baneful herbs of witchcraft are often associated with hexes, necromancy, and flying ointments or the darker aspects of the Craft. These herbs include aconite, belladonna, foxglove, hellebore, hemlock, henbane, mandrake, mistletoe, and yew. These herbs are also associated with dark gods and goddess, faery folk, and necromancy. Many of these herbs have a trickster aspect, which make even working with their energies something best left to skilled practitioners. The baneful herbs are:
Aconite Aconitum napellus. Also known as Monkshood or Queen Mother. Monkshood is the poison Romeo takes in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and contains alkaloids. Monkshood was also an ingredient in many medieval flying ointments. This herb is sacred to Hecate and often used for curses, hexing, and necromancy.
Aconitum vluparia (lycoctonum) Wolfsbane is an aconite however it is distinct from monkshood. Wolfsbane has similar shaped flowers to monkshood, but they are generally yellow in color. This herb is sacred to Hekate and useful against shape shifting and very protective.
Belladonna Atropa belladonna. The “Beautiful Lady” or Deadly Nightshade most commonly used for death magick, curses, and war magick. Possibly because of its association with medieval flying ointments, this herb is also associated with astral travel. It is said that medieval prostitutes would drop a weak dilution of belladonna into their eyes to dilate their pupils and thus make them more attractive to customers. It is possibly for this reason it has been associated with sex magick and beauty rituals.
Datura Datura stramonium. Jimsonweed or Devil’s Apple is a New World herb that was integrated into an already existing European tradition of witchcraft. It was also used in flying ointments and is associated with astral travel and shape shifting. Also, datura may be useful in love magick, divination, dream magick, honoring the moon, or protection rituals.
Foxglove Digitalis species. Also called Folk’s Glove, Fairy caps foxglove has long been associated with witches and faery folk. This herb is sacred to the fey and may also help in divination. When grown, foxglove can have a protective energy surrounding a home.
Hellebore Helleborus niger. This herb is used traditionally for necromancy and banishing. However, it is also a pretty flower. Helleborus niger is the variety most magickal texts refer to as “Hellebore” however very beautiful varieties are sold in garden centers as evergreen early blooming plants also called Lenten Rose.
Hemlock Conium maculatum. Hemlock is a traditional poison and I am including it in this list for reference only. I would not recommend working with this poison; as it appears similar to many edible plants and could easily be mistaken for one. However, Hemlock is another traditional flying ointment ingredient and as such is associated with astral travel. It is also sacred to Hekcate and may be used in banishing and consecration rituals. I personally would not take the chance.
Henbane Hyoscyamus niger. Henbane is sacred to Hekate and is useful in necromantic rites and spirit work. Another use for this herb is that of divination. This was another flying ointment ingredient.
Mandrake Atropa mandragora (formerly Mandragora officialis). Mandrake has a long history with the occult and is associated with lust and love magick. Additionally, mandrake roots are said to scream when pulled and may be used in poppets and for curses, bindings, and hexes. Mandrake is sacred to Hekate and Aphrodite and may also be used in protection spells.
Mistletoe Viscum vulparia: Mistletoe is associated with Druids. It is said Druids used mistletoe to induce visions as well as for protection and in healing. This herb is also associated with invisibility and lust and fertility spells. I would think mistletoe may also be useful in love and protection spells.
Wormwood Artemsia absinthum. While this herb is not as toxic as the rest, it is not advisable to ingest wormwood. Magicaklly, wormwood is sacred to Hekate and may be used for moon workings, dreams, and divination. The darker aspects of wormwood make it useful in vengeance and magickal attacks, war magick, and protection.
Yew Taxcus baccata. The Yew is sacred to the druids and the Norse. The wood is used in necromancy and may be utilized for wands for spirit work.
I have worked with many of the baneful herbs in this article, but not all of them. I have taken necessary precautions when working with baneful herbs and do not recommend ingesting any of these herbs. I also would caution anyone burning these herbs in any incense blend to only do so outdoors to avoid any unfortunate incidents. The herbs I have the most experience with from this list are Monkshood, Wolfsbane, Foxglove, Belladonna, and Jimsonweed. All of these herbs are herbs I use semi-regularly in my practice. Additionally, I grow these herbs in sacred herb gardens well away from any small children or domesticated animals to avoid harm.
Often I use these herbs as offerings to deities like Hekate, Dionysos, or Aphrodite. However, I have also used belladonna in beauty and glamoury magick. I find the feary folk respond fairly well to belladonna and foxglove. Monkshood, wolfsbane and jimsonweed are all a part of my spiritual ceremonies for Dionysos. Additionally, this year I would like to attempt to grow and work with mandrake, yew, and hellebore. I hope to write more about these herbs as I have more experiences to share this summer.
Beyerl, Paul. (1984) The Master Book of Herbalism. Phoenix Publishing.
Cunningham, Scott. (2004) “Baneful Herbs and Flying Ointments” The Llewellyn Encyclopedia.
Cunningham, Scott. (1985) Cunningham’ Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs. Llewellyn Publications.
“The Baneful Herbs”