I’ve been getting some inquiries from folks just starting to investigate herbs about which ones they should start with. My usual reply is “start with solving a problem you currently have and then build from there”. However, having some on hand “just in case” isn’t a bad idea. I also recognize that not everyone has room for a huge apothecary so I tried to narrow my “beginner’s list” down to 10 that can come in handy. So, in no particular order:
Peppermint Mentha x piperita is an extremely versatile herb. First, it makes a rather tasty, cooling tea – especially in the summer when you’ve been working in the yard. Further than that, it helps bring down fevers, calm tension headaches, get rid of nausea and bring colds & flu to a quick end. Rubbing a fresh, crushed peppermint leaf on gums will also calm the rattled nerve endings associated with teething. Magically, it adds a lot of “oomph” to healing and purification spells.
Garlic Allium sativum is another very versatile herb. The list of therapeutic actions is almost endless. Two (raw) cloves a day are just as good as an apple – will keep the doctor away in many instances. It’s used to bring down high cholesterol and high blood pressure, get rid of infections (topical or internal), stimulate digestion, also to bring down fevers. Scientific research also suggests garlic is an immune system enhancer so can be taken as preventive measure. Raw garlic can cause indigestion so experimentation is necessary. You can roast it or take capsules if your stomach doesn’t like it raw (but its medicinal properties won’t be as strong). Magically it’s used in healing, purification, and protection spells.
German Chamomile Matricaria recutita is a very calming herb – many people drink Chamomile tea before bed to help them sleep. The same properties make it good not only for insomnia but nervous tension and neuralgia. Topically, it’s great to calm skin reddened by weather. Magically, use it in love, money & purification spells.
Myrrh Commiphora molmol is one of my favorite antibacterial herbs. It’s used extensively for mouth problems: halitosis, pyorrhea, gingivitis, thrush and mouth ulcers. It will also help heal skin abrasions quickly. Myrrh incense has been used for centuries to purify an area and create peace – great for background when meditating or use it to purify ritual tools.
Yarrow Achillea millefolium will staunch bleeding before your eyes. It’s also another good herb to have on hand for colds, fevers and bronchitis. Because of its antibacterial, antimicrobial and astringent properties, it helps tremendously with urinary tract and vaginal infections. Magically, use yarrow in love spells, to strengthen psychic powers, and to stop fear and grant courage.
Plantain Plantago major is found in just about everyone’s yard nowadays and can generally be found growing close to nettle. There’s a reason: rubbing a fresh leaf on the spot will calm the sting from a nettle almost immediately. For the same reason it calms the itching of insect bites and rashes, including eczema. It’s an immune system enhancer, and a refrigerant so it will help calm and heal burns and scalds. Use plantain to enhance the effect of almost any spell or for healing or protection.
Thyme Thymus vulgaris is another herb with a long list of reasons to have it on hand. Thyme is a great disinfectant: I use thyme tea to clean wounds before treating them further. It’s good for coughs, colds, fever, sore throats, tension headaches, muscle spasms, skin rashes, and arthritis. Its aromatic (or deodorant) properties make it good for purification rituals, and it is a powerful addition to health and healing spells.
Lemon Citrus limon is very well known as a refrigerant – it will calm the pain of a sunburn. Lecturers and singers know it well as an ingredient in tea (with honey and hot water) to keep the throat clear. The same recipe is good for sore throats due to a cold or cough. Its astringent properties make it a good face wash for those with oily skin and a lot of people use it as a bleaching agent for freckles. Lemon juice mixed with a little water will cleanse ritual items or other magical objects purchased secondhand. It’s used in the bath for purification and in spells to draw or seal friendship.
Sage Salvia officinalis , besides being an ingredient in turkey stuffing is well known as a fever reducer. Its astringent qualities make it great to help stop bleeding, to clear up mucous in the lungs and to calm the itch of insect bites. Sage will also help calm nervous tension and dry up a mother’s milk if she’s trying to wean a child. Magically it’s used to cleanse an area of negativity, to promote wisdom and to strengthen mental powers.
And last but not least
Tea Tree Melaleuca laternifolia is one of the strongest antimicrobials in my medicine cabinet. I haven’t seen the dried herb on the market here in the US but there’s no need – the essential oil is what you want and it’s readily available. Use Tea Tree oil for athletes’ foot, insect bites, acne and cold sores. I also dab it on cuts after cleansing and before covering with a bandage. Some people find Tea Tree to be a bit too strong for their sensitive skin so you may have to dilute it in a carrier oil before use. A friend of mine puts some in her washing machine – especially if she’s laundering baby clothes.
This list was essentially off the top of my head. There are countless other herbs that can be used for many issues. Do some research and experimentation!