Herb Haul! (Kind of.)

Well, less “haul” than “restock.”

I like restocking this time of year. Like I kind of got into in my post about cleansing your energy for fall, this is a really renewing time of year for me. It also has several other things going for it, like:

  • Being right after NoVA Pagan Pride, so I can buy my herbs there and actually see/smell what I’m getting. A lot of places don’t stock hard-to-find herbs (or particularly pungent ones, like asafoetida), so I have to get them online. While I’ve found a really good online supplier, I do still like to see my herbs in person.
  • Being right after summer. A lot of great herbs are ready to harvest in fall, but it’s also nice to get all of those summer herbs that’ve had a few weeks to dry.
  • Being right before winter, when I’m going to need herbs for teas and cough syrups.

Pride was the 29th of September this year. I debated vlogging it, but couldn’t really make myself do it. There’s just a feeling there, you know? I like talking to vendors and meeting people, I love the atmosphere. It’s too much fun for me to have to focus on getting video. My extroversion doesn’t do that great when I keep it behind a camera, it sucks the joy out of socializing.

But! I did use the opportunity to visit Phoenix Rising Apothecary‘s booth to stock up on a lot of the magical herbs I use most often, and a fair amount I need for a specific project. (If you’re up on your herb lore, you can prooobably take a guess of exactly what that is.)  So, while the idea is still somewhat fresh in my mind, I figured I’d make a post about what I decided to stock up on, and the magical properties of each herb.

Agrimony. I use it for banishing and uncrossing. It’s very efficient at returning evil to its source, it’s pretty much a mirror for other people’s bull. Some consider that “baneful” magic, but that’s in the eye of the beholder — in my opinion, there is nothing wrong with returning something you didn’t want, need, or ask for!

Asafoetida. This is another excellent banishing herb — possibly the strongest of them. I’ve had a tough time finding it, because many sellers don’t want to keep it in stock. It’s pretty pungent, with a smell that falls somewhere between garlic and skunky cannabis. It’s a very earthy smell, and not necessarily bad, but it is very strong. It disperses negative energy, banishes, protects, and exorcises.

Dittany of Crete. Dittany of Crete is a relative of oregano, and can be tough to find because it isn’t widely grown. I use it for divination, spirit work, and divination, and it is the primary ingredient in one of my most-used oils.

Feverfew. A nice protective herb. Also used to bring good fortune, and for spiritual healing. I don’t use it often, but it’s one herb I’d like to get to know better.

Fumitory. This is burned to exorcise, and sometimes used for prosperity magic. It’s one that came recommended by the seller, and I decided to give it a try. It’s likely to make its way into a banishing incense.

Lavender. If I could only have one herb for the rest of my life, lavender might be it. It’s cleansing, peaceful, draws love, protects, and is virtually indispensable in dream magic.

Lemon Verbena. This herb adds a boost to whatever herbal mixture it’s included in. It purifies, cleanses, draws love, and ignites passion. It’s also very good at flipping bad luck!

Mugwort. I use mugwort primarily for divination and dream magic. It’s also used for protection and healing. Before scrying, I wash my mirror or crystals in an infusion of mugwort in distilled water. (If that’s not practical, you can also use it as a spray and give them a little mist.)

Mullein. The hag’s taper. It frequently grew along the edges of properties, giving it a strong association with borders — for this reason, it’s frequently used by hedge witches. I use it for spirit work and psychic pursuits, but it’s also used for strength, protection, and healing. It is also sometimes used as a substitute for graveyard dust.

Star Anise. I use these fragrant, star-shaped seed pods as power herbs. Keeping four at the corners of your altar is said to boost the power of your spellwork. They’re also used for good luck, and keeping one on you can ward off the evil eye and prevent misfortune.

Vetiver. I love vetiver. The warm, earthy spiciness is my favorite fragrance, and most of my favorite perfumes use it. It’s useful for hex-breaking, protection, prosperity, and luck. It’s also a very efficient power herb. Some use it for hexing, but, from my experience, it is better at breaking them than laying them.

Wild Cherry Bark. I have an idiosyncratic relationship with wild cherry bark. I never really used it until a few years ago, when I used dream magic to divine the ingredients for an oil I wanted to make. I didn’t know anything about wild cherry bark when it came to me in a dream, but I looked it up… and it was perfect. Most sources I’ve seen list it as a love herb. I’ve used it in an offertory capacity, for healing, and for animal magic.

There are still some others I need to get. (Cinquefoil, for one, and centaury!) For now, this is enough to get me through the next couple of ideas I have kicking around in my head, plus some extra for any magical emergencies.

A(n Actual)”Starter Witch Kit”

Note: This post contains some affiliate links. These links let me earn a small commission for each sale, at no extra cost to you. Thank you for helping to support this site, as well as rad people who make neat stuff.

After Pinrose chose to pull their Starter Witch Kit amidst a heap of (justifiable) controversy, it got me thinking.

“Self,” I says to me, “If you were going to put together a kit for a beginning witch, what would you put in it? If someone asked you to design the Starter Witch Kit, how would you have done it differently?”

And then I started brainstorming.

While I object to the attempt to use witchcraft as a way to sell perfume samples, I don’t necessarily see anything wrong with including perfume as a way to help beginning witches start to connect with witchcraft on a practical level and begin practicing regularly. I mean, I use perfume and cosmetics as part of my practice. Besides, just look at the origins of the word “glamour!”

So, if Pinrose had drafted me to come up with a kit for baby witches, here are the things I would choose instead of their sage/rose quartz/pastel tarot deck/perfume samples combo.



The Herb


As someone who has taken part in smudging at every pow-wow I danced at, sage and I go way back. That said, it isn’t really part of my practice now — I prefer to fume with other herbs that I have a different relationship with. I’m also not really sure that a cleansing herb is necessarily the best choice here. Don’t get me wrong, learning to do that is important, but there are so many other ways to cleanse things/yourself/your house/your snotty room mate that it seems like a waste of a slot. If I were going to point a new witch toward my favorite herbs to work with, in general, I’d pick:

Cinquefoil. Also known as five finger grass, cinquefoil has as many virtues as it has “fingers.” It’s used in money magic, love spells, luck spells, travel magic, and for protection. For a beginning witch without a spacious herb cabinet, cinquefoil packs a lot of versatility (and punch) in one little bag. Get some wildcrafted cinquefoil from Harmony Hills Boutique here.

Clary sage. I love clary sage. It’s probably my favorite herb to work with. It’s calming, soothing, and good for divination and trance work. I’ve also used it for cleansing. Divination is a pretty key skill to learn (and not one that many beginners feel confident in) so I’m of the opinion that some nice, fragrant clary sage is a good place to start. Get some clary sage from Humming Ferns Botans here.

Mugwort. Mugwort is another solid divination herb. It’s also used for protection, strength, and healing — all things it’s good to develop some magical skill with. Get some organic mugwort from Harmony Hills Boutique here. 

Rose petals. It’s said that rose can stand in for any flower a spell calls for. While not everyone agrees with that, they’re still really versatile. They really shine in love magic, but love magic encompasses a lot more than people give it credit for. Love magic aside, they’re also used for healing, protection, and divination. Give roses as offerings, infuse them in oil, burn them as incense, the world’s your oyster. Get some rose buds or petals in either red or pink from Harmony Hills Boutique here. 

Rosemary. Similarly to roses, rosemary is said to be able to stand in for any herb. This is because, again, it’s really versatile. Love, protection, exorcism, purification, beauty, you name it. Rosemary is also very easy to come by, and this ubiquity means it’s helpful to develop a strong working relationship with it. Get some organic rosemary from Harmony Hills Boutique here. 



The Crystal


I mean, rose quartz isn’t bad… It’s just very obvious that it was only chosen to match Pinrose’s pastel tarot deck. Boooring. If I had my way, I would’ve picked:

Clear quartz. It’s clear, it’s pretty, it’s inexpensive, and it can be used for basically anything. It’s also available in the U.S., so obtaining some doesn’t have to cost a child laborer their eyesight. Pick up a clear quartz from Bliss Crystals here. 

Lodolite. Lodolite is basically clear quartz +, and is found in all of the same places. It should be noted, though, that “lodolite” is kind of a meaningless term — it just means mud stone, and isn’t really an actual, scientific term. That’s why you’ll often see it called things like garden quartz, scenic quartz, inclusion quartz, shaman quartz, or named by its particular inclusions (chlorite quartz, for example). Anyway, with that out of the way, lodolite is an excellent meditation aid. The best specimens can look like they have entire tiny forests inside, or swirls of minuscule galaxies. Hold one and stare into it long enough, and you’ll see where it takes you. Pick up a tumbled lodolite from Gem Realm here. 

Amethyst. Amethyst is good for divination, relaxation, mental magic, dream magic, and lots of other things that involve calming yourself and cultivating mental discipline. As I mentioned previously, this is something that can be challenging when you’re first starting out — amethyst can help. Pick up an amethyst from Bliss Crystals here. 

Black Tourmaline. Black tourmaline is a great stone for grounding, which is something that’s often overlooked. It’s not as exciting as other magic, but it’s probably the most important skill to pick up. It’s also used for luck and protection, two things pretty much anyone can use more of. Pick up some black tourmaline from Bliss Crystals here.

Citrine. Citrine is another variety of quartz, but it’s not as easy to find as it might seem. There are a ton of inexpensive pieces of citrine on the market — unfortunately, most of them are pieces of low-grade amethyst that has been heat treated to give it a yellow-orange color. This isn’t to say that baked amethyst isn’t any good, but it isn’t exactly citrine. Citrine enhances joy, brings luck, and clears negative energy. I know a lot of tarot readers who keep a piece with their cards. Pick up a natural citrine from Bliss Crystals here.



The Tarot Deck


Okay, so. We’ve got an herb, a crystal, now for the deck. I feel like I’ve talked about divination a lot here, but that’s because it’s something that’s really important to me and my practice. Divination is more than just trying to predict the future — it can tell you a lot! If I were choosing a tarot deck to show a newbie, I would choose:

The Rider-Waite Tarot. Okay, this is not necessarily the most exciting choice, but that’s why I picked it. The RWT is pretty much as close to a bog-standard tarot deck as you can get, and, until you’re at the point where you can intuit card readings, interpret artwork, and so forth, it’s helpful to get used to using it. A lot of sites and guides to tarot card meanings are based on this deck. Here’s some more information on the Rider-Waite tarot deck. 

The Deviant Moon Tarot. I’m not gonna lie, I completely picked this one just because I like it so much. I use it all the time. The artwork is strange and wonderful, and I love the odd world in it. It’s also not too far off from the RWT in terms of how the suits and trumps are depicted. It’s a beautiful, strange deck with a dark feel, and I’ve never gotten anything but helpful, perceptive readings from it. Here’s more information on the Deviant Moon tarot deck. 

The Animalis Os Fortuna. I use this deck in a religious context, because the animals used in its imagery lend it an added layer of meaning. Not only does a card have the meaning it typically does in a standard deck, but there’s also the animal to consider — the cunning of a fox, the wisdom of an owl, whatever it is manta rays are good at. For this reason, it’s a helpful deck for learning to interpret cards intuitively, and for divination outside of tarot’s usual scope. Purchase the Animalis Os Fortuna deck here.



The Perfume


I have a lot of perfume. Like, close to an embarrassing amount of it. I love it, and I don’t know what I’d do without it. Scent evokes memory, changes mood, and creates an atmosphere. With that said, if I had to pick a suitably witchy perfume, I’d pick from:

Incantation by Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab. Described as “vetiver, dark woods, crumbling and burnt black sandalwood and a drop of lemon rind,” Incantation is a sweet, dark, woody scent. The lemon rind just barely comes through, giving the dark woods a brighter, almost floral character. Purchase Incantation here.

Standing Stones by Red Deer Grove. Standing Stones is another woody fragrance. It has notes of balsam, cedar, dragons blood, cardamom, bergamot, and musk, among others. It has an almost smoky, incense-like character, and is one of my favorite unisex fragrances. Purchase Standing Stones here. 

November in the Temperate Deciduous Forest by For Strange Women. Somehow, For Strange Women has managed to perfectly capture the smell of a forest in autumn. It has notes of black tea, bergamot, mushrooms, soil, and dried leaves. This scent has a very pleasant earthiness, offset by the bergamot and faintly spicy smell of autumn leaves. Purchase November in the Temperate Deciduous Forest here.

French Oakmoss by For Strange Women. Oakmoss is a power herb, and this perfume uses it to good effect. The dry earthiness of the oakmoss is offset by the clean scent of lavender, and the fresh green of moss. I like to wear this one while meditating or doing spellwork — the scent is subtle, but powerful. Purchase French Oakmoss here. 


And there you have it, a build-your-own Starter Witch Kit, pretty much guaranteed to fit your needs better than a perfume company’s marketing ploy.


Is Bti water safe to drink? Or, Natural Pest Control for Paranoid Plant Keepers.

So, plants.

I have a lot of them. What witch hasn’t kept a pot of something on a windowsill somewhere, you know? In a previous incarnation of this blog, I talked about everything from trying to grow a rosemary bush, to collecting cacti, to that time my aloe plant absolutely would not stop reproducing. In short, I really like plants.

Unfortunately, my place doesn’t have any outdoor space to speak of. (None that I can use, anyway.) As a result, I have roughly one plant per 20 ft², and counting. The trouble is, not all of them are cacti — I also have a number of tropical plants that become really, really unhappy if they aren’t kept moist. I live in a very humid area, which they seem to enjoy, but…

Fungus gnats, though.


My poor, bedraggled fern…

Fungus gnats like moist soil. They deposit their eggs in it, and, before you know it, you’ve got masses of annoying, tiny gnats swarming around all of your plants. They’re not the only bugs that really dig on some wet dirt, either. When you combine plants that need to be kept moist with high humidity, it’s pretty much the ideal breeding ground for all kinds of tiny, annoying pests that are super enthusiastic about living in your pots.


I try to use natural pest control. My space is small, so I have to minimize my ability to inadvertently come in contact with pesticide. I also have two cats, so I really, really need to keep their exposure risk as low as possible. Since I don’t really have an outdoor hose/spigot I can use, any watering or diluting I do has to be done in either my kitchen or bathroom sink. Also, I try to avoid releasing any more pesticide/fungicide/herbicide into the sewer system than I absolutely have to.

My apartment is not really a place to bust out the big guns. 


All of this is to say, I became really curious about what happens if you accidentally drink water deliberately infested with insect-killing bacteria.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t exactly have a compulsion to go shotgunning entire liters of Bti water, but I was curious. What if some of it gets on me? If I’m going to be working with it in my kitchen, what are the odds I’m going to come down with some kind of weird bug disease? If the water gets on my hands and I touch my face, is it going to start falling apart Jeff-Goldblum-in-The-Fly style?

Anyway, here’s what I’ve got:

What is Bti, anyway?

Bti is short for Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (say that five times, fast). It’s a bacteria that is used as a natural form of insect control, because it produces toxins that certain insect species are susceptible to. Mosquitoes are one susceptible group, so you usually see Bti marketed in the form of mosquito dunks and granules to control their population.

How’s it actually work?

Short version is, the bacteria, bacterial toxins and all, are mixed into an inert matrix and molded into a kind of brick, granule, or donut shape. You dump ’em in some standing water, the bacteria are slowly released to begin doing their thing, insect larvae ingest them, the toxins make them stop eating, they die.

For houseplants, you can keep a mosquito dunk in your watering can. When you saturate the soil with the treated water, it kills some types of soil pests (like fungus gnat larvae) in much the same fashion. They take in the toxins, they die, voila.

How safe is Bti?

Here’s the complicated part — Bti pretty much only affects insects, and only specific insects, at that. Vertebrates don’t have the same digestive mechanisms insects do, so they aren’t affected. Some products even state that they can be used in bird baths and animal watering troughs to keep them from being a vector for mosquitoes.

Bti products have an abundance of cautionary instructions, including claims that they should not be used in water intended for human consumption. Swimming pools, however, seem to be okay. The EPA states that Bti poses no risk to humans or other, non-insect animals, but it’s best not to take that at face value for reasons I’ll get into in a moment.

So, is Bti safe in drinking water?

If Bti products are safe to use in swimming pools, and the EPA says that it poses no risk to humans, why shouldn’t Bti products be used in drinking water? There are a couple of reasons:

  • Bti products aren’t just Bti. They are also made up of proprietary inert ingredients and binding agents that may not be great for human consumption. The EPA’s ability to say that Bti itself doesn’t pose a risk to humans does not necessarily transfer to a product in which Bti is one of many ingredients.
  • The producers of Bti products did not shell out the astronomical sums of money required to perform a full-scale human safety assessment. Properly performing product safety tests on human subjects is difficult, expensive, and takes a very, very long time. For liability reasons, they cannot guarantee your safety if you chug their stuff.
  • Bti is usually tossed into stagnant water. The producers of Bti products don’t want to be liable for someone who gives themselves cholera because they thought a couple mosquito dunks would make their water safe.
  • Some Bt strains can produce beta-exotoxin, which is toxic to basically everything. Strict quality control guidelines have to be in place to make sure that these bacterial strains and their toxins don’t contaminate finished products. Bt products intended for Canada, Europe, and the U.S. are legally required not to contain beta-exotoxin.

That said, the EPA isn’t the only organization with things to say about Bti. The WHO has a whole PDF about it for the purposes of developing quality guidelines for drinking water. In it, they conclude:

Bti itself is not considered to pose a hazard to humans through drinking-water. Therefore, it is not considered necessary or appropriate to establish a guideline for it. However, the absence of contaminating bacteria or other impurities cannot be assured under currently allowed production practices and post-production testing requirements as quality assurance and quality control measures. Therefore, stricter and more comprehensive requirements for production and post-production testing and better defined criteria for purity and safety are recommended to minimize human health risks from possible drinking-water exposures.

Short version: Bti is safe. The other stuff that ends up in water along with it may not be. We need stricter QC guidelines and better production methods before we let anyone go around drinking it.

But can you drink Bti treated water, or not?

I mean, I wouldn’t.

Ultimately, if it is only Bti in the water, it’s probably alright. However, there is absolutely no way to guarantee that in your typical home/garden setting. Because of the small potential for quality control issues (recalls can happen, even for innocuous products) and the fact that Bti is used for stagnant, nasty water, it is not a great idea to drink it. So, while you don’t need to bundle yourself in a HAZMAT suit every time you so much as touch the stuff, you should still wash your hands after using it, don’t inhale the dust, and avoid hosting any homebrewed Bti keggers anytime soon.