Books on the Folklore and Magickal Uses of Herbs and Trees
by Susan Joy Atton
[Where possible, The Cauldron has provided links to these books on Amazon.com. In some cases, however, the specific edition linked to is not the one listed.]
Scott Cunningham is great, but here are some books beyond Cunningham, for those serious about studying the folklore and magickal properties of herbs and trees. (Note: more titles will be added as I continue my herbal investigations).
Allende, Isabel, Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses, 1998, Harper Flamingo.
A beautifully-written book about aphrodisiacs and sexuality, presented in almost the style of a diary about the author's life and travels. Contains some information about food and herbs that awaken passion. .
Beyerl, Paul - The Master Book of Herbalism - 1987, Phoenix Publishing.
Beyerl, Paul - A Compendium of Herbal Magick - 1998, Phoenix Publishing.
These are the two magickal herbalism books put together by Paul Beyerl, written from a Wiccan point of view. There is a lot of good folklore and mythology in both of them, though "The Compendium" is more recent, and contains all the information of the first book and more (so it's the one to get). Paul Beyerl has some interesting suggestings on how to use herbs for various stages of ritual and Wiccan events, and it's obvious he's incorporated this into his own tradition.
He also explains some of the astrological side of it with charts in the back of "The Compendium", which is very helpful for spellcasting. All in all, two great books, though some of the botanical information isn't accurate - he gives the wrong specific genera for certain plants, or presents some botanical information in a confusing manner . One example is the folklore surrounding the Sunflower, Helianthus annus - which probably does not have much Euroepean folklore surrounding it in the very early days, considering it is a plant of the Americas. Use this book in conjunction with some good descriptive botanical books and field guides.
Bierhorst, John - The Mythology of South America - 1988, William Morrow and Company.
Fascinating mythology - touches in places upon how plants were part of the mythology in many South American cultures.
Buhner, Stephen Harrod - Sacred Plant Medicine: Explorations in the Practice of Indigenous Herbalism - 1996, Robert Rinehart Publishers.
An interesting book that explains some of the thinking behind American indigenous herbalism. Describes how at least some of the Native Americans approach plants and think about them, and some of their most important botanicals used for healing.
Bullfinch, Thomas - Bullfinch's Mythology - 1998, Random House Incorporated.
A classic work, with plenty of deity-turns-into-flower and maiden-morphs-into-tree bits thrown in there.
Caldecott, Moyra - Myths of the Sacred Tree - 1993, Destiny Books.
A wonderful collection of myths and folktales from a various cultures, all concerning trees. Caldecott's comments about each myth give even more hints to how people saw trees in their lives.
Campanelli, Pauline - The Wheel of the Year: Living the Magical Life - 1989, Llewellyn Publications.
Campanelli, Pauline - Ancient Ways - 1991, Llewellyn Publications.
Two Llewellyn books that, in spite of their disorganized mode of presentation, (and the fact that they are "Llewellyn Books"), offer up a lot of good information on the Wiccan Sabbats and the four seasons north of the equator, including seasonal crafts and lots of herbal information.
Coats, Alice - Flowers and Their History - 1968, McGraw-Hill.
A lot of plant folklore can be found in simply investigating how the plant got its name. This is a good place to start.
Coffey, Timothy - The History and Folklore of North American Wildflowers - 1993, Houghton Mifflin Company.
Fantastic! This is a field guide, and is written by somebody who obviously knows his botany, which is refreshing. Lots of medicinal information about plants of North America, including some plants of which are rarely even mentioned in other books. Neat little comments on indigenous ritual and magickal uses tucked in there as well.
Cooper, J.C. - An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols - 1978, Thames and Hudson, Ltd.
Aside from being a decent general reference, this book includes some info on the traditional symbolism of herbs, trees, and foods.
Culpeper, Nicholas - Culpeper's Complete Herbal and English Physician - 1987, Meyerbooks.
Culpeper, Nicholas - Culpeper's Complete Herbal: Consisting of a Comprehensive Description of Nearly All Herbs with their Medicinal Properties and Directions for Compound - 1995, Foulsham & Co.
Nicholas Culpeper was one of the pioneers of Western Holistic Medicine and one of the most influential investigators of the ties between herbalism and Western Astrology. Most of Culpeper's medicinal information has been since updated by modern science, so he's not the best source for this. If you're going to use this strictly for medicinal purposes, it pays to consult more recent herbals. The books do offer some insights to folklore and especially astrological associations.
[A downloadable version of Culpeper is available in The Cauldron's File Library.]
Davis, Patricia - Aromatherapy: An A-Z - 1995, Barnes & Nobles Books.
No study of magickal herbalism would be complete without investigating aromatherapy, because fragrance can and should be incorporated into magick and ritual. This talks mostly about essential oils and how they are used, (as opposed to the actual plants), but essential oils are some of the base energies of plants and Davis does mention how they can cure people emotionally. Interesting reading.
Dioscorides, De Meteria Medica.
This manuscript describes some 600 botanicals. Contains many paintings of plants.
Dubois, Pierre - Great Encyclopedia of Faeries: Secrets Revealed - Simon and Schuster, Edition Hoebeke, Paris 1996, English Translation 1999.
Certain plants and trees have long been linked to the Sidhe and other faerie folks. This book mentions some of the connections.
Farrar, Janet and Stewart - The Witches' Goddess - 1987, Phoenix Publishing.
Farrar, Janet and Stewart - The Witch's God - 1989, Phoenix Publishing.
The appendices contain some herbal/deity associations, mostly culled from Crowley's "777". Useful for spells and rituals though.
Fontana, David - The Secret Language of Symbols: A Visual Key to Symbols and Their Meanings - 1993, Chronicle Books.
The best book on symbolism that I've seen so far as far as information goes, this book covers plants and symbolism quite extensively.
Frazer, James George - The Golden Bough (A New Abridgement) - 1994, Oxford University Press.
A useful book as far as describing how certain cultures incorporated plants and trees in their magick and ritual. Some of Frazer's conclusions about why people did what they did may be mere speculation on his part, but he does offer some insights.
Fussell, Betty - The Story of Corn - 1992, North Point Press.
Corn is the preeminent North American crop plant, and this book covers it from every possible angle, including folklore.
Gill, Sam D. & Sullivan, Irene F. - Dictionary of Native American Mythology - 1992, Oxford University Press.
Offers some ethnobotanical information on how certain tribes used various plants.
Graves, Robert - The White Goddess - 1948, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Taken as a book of poetic speculation as opposed to hard history, Graves should still be read, if only to see how his ideas (some of which are fascinating) affected The Craft . There is much insight here as to how trees were seen in ancient time in Europe.
Grieve, Maude - A Modern Herbal. Volume I - 1978, Dover Publications.
Grieve, Maude - A Modern Herbal: The Medicinal, Culinary, Cosmetic and Economic Properties
Maude Grieve is one of the best sources for herbal folklore. This book is a must-have for all magickal herbalists. It's not the most up to date book on medicinal herbalism, however, because it's from the 1930's and there's been much research about how herbs interact with the human body since then.
Hamilton, Edith - Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes - 1940, Mentor Books.
A nifty little pocket reference on classical mythology, inexpensive if you can get it in paperback - with plenty of botanical references tied to heroes and deities.
Hole, Christina - The Encyclopedia of Superstitions - 1961 Editor M. Horsley and Christina Hole, 1996 Barnes and Nobles Edition.
What some people call superstition, others call folklore, and there's lots of it in here, especially from the British Isles after the advent of Christianity. Good reading.
Hopman, Ellen Evert - Tree Medicine, Tree Magic - 1991, Phonix Publishing Company
Hopman, Ellen Evert - A Druid's Herbal for the Sacred Year - 1995, Destiny Books
Hopman has some good insights into herbalism, and in the second book mentioned here - "The Druid's Herbal"- she shows via references how certain plants were very important in certain areas with Celtic populations. There is very little actual information out there on how the Celts used many of the herbs mentioned, however - leaving out biggies such as Vervain, Mistletoe, etc. of course- so it's mere speculation why certain plants here were chosen specifically for Celtic rituals. I don't disapprove of most of her choices and inclusions though - one who understands these plants can see why they've been added - but she should explain how some are not specifically "Celtic" or "Druidic", given the title of this book, and the fact many people who pick it up are trying to reconstruct something from this culture.
Knab, Sophie Hodorowicz - Polish Herbs, Flowers & Folk Medicine - 1995 (Revised Edition, 1999), Hippocrene Books, Inc.
I found a reference this book on a great Pagan Polish website and it's one of the favorites in my collection. This is a wonderful herbal. Knab talks a lot about how plants and flowers were used by Christians centuries ago. One can see how a mixture of paganism and Christianity contributed to their culture. She also describes some wonderful festivals. This book made me want to run out and investigate the Polish countryside!
Kowalchick, Claire and Hylton, William H. (Editors) - Rodale's Encyclopedia of Herbs - 1987, Rodale Press.
A good basic reference for herbalists and gardeners, with some good botanical information and folklore as well.
Leech, Maria (Editor) - Funk and Wagnall's Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legends - 1972.
Contains a lot of good mythological and ritual uses of various plants.
Lewington, Anna & Parker, Edward - Ancient Trees: Trees That Live For a Thousand Years - 1999, Collins & Brown Ltd.
Stunning photography and lots of info on the folklore of trees. Wonderful stories about individual trees that lived for centuries, and the stories that arose around them. One of my favorite books.
Lust, John - The Herb Book - 1974, Bantam Books.
A great little volume describing medicinal and magickal uses of various herbs.
Madsen, William & Claudia - A Guide to Mexican Witchcraft - 1992, Minutiae Mexicana.
This booklet is a reprint from a 1960's publication, mainly aimed at tourists, describing how Mexicans use magic. The couple who wrote it share Frazer's "see what those savages do" approach, unfortunately. Because of my travels to Mexico and my conversations with healers at markets, I can see there is some truth in the descriptions...although the writer's attitude of "being better" than the surrounding culture makes it hard to read sometimes..
Malbrough, Ray T - Charms, Spells and Formulas - 1996, Llewellyn Publications.
Not all pagans are Wiccan, and there are lots of people out there who practice Hoodoo style magick. This is not the "definitive" source for herbal magickal among hoodoo practioners, but it's a good look at what herbs people use, because the book is so widely read. I would actually recommend a pair of well done websites for that also - http://www.luckymojo.com/luckyw.html and http://www.luckymojo.com/hoodoo.html. Cat Yronwode has a scholarly approach to the subject and a lot of information to offer.
Mojay, Gabriel - Aromatherapy For The Healing of the Spirits - A Guide to Restoring Emotional and Mental Balance Through Essential Oils 1996, Henry Holt (Owl Book).
A nifty book that gives much insight into to how the scent of plants (as expressed through essential oils) can emotionally heal. Mojay talks a lot about plants from an Eastern perspective, and even gives elemental associations to plants relating to Chinese Traditional Medicine.
Miller, Richard Alan - The Magical and Ritual Use of Herbs - 1983, 1993, Destiny Books.
A small but informative book on plants that have been used to create alternate states of mind. Even contains info on the chemistry of certain plants.
Nahmad, Claire - Garden Spells: The Magic of Herbs, Trees and Flowers - 1998, Gramercy Books, Random House.
Sweet little book with folklore tidbits about various herbs and trees.
Porta, John Baptist - Natural Magick.
A hard to read grimoire with some herbal recipes and uses thrown in there.
Reader's Digest - Magic and Medicine of Plants - 1993, Reader's Digest Association.
Up there with Rodale's as one of the good general herbals to grace the bookshelf. Lots of folklore and accurate botanical information.
Reid, Daniel - A Handbook of Chinese Healing Herbs - 1995, D. Reid, 1999 Barnes & Nobles Books.
Approaches herbalism from the Traditional Chinese Herbalism perspective, and lists plants that aren't found in most herbals I've seen. Mostly from a medicinal viewpoint, but some folklore here and there.
Riva, Anna - The Modern Herbal Spellbook: The Magical Uses of Herbs - 1974, International Imports.
Useful to see how thousands of people are using herbs for magick every day, this over the counter booklet is a big seller in botanicas. Mostly hoodoo usage of herbs here.
Robinson, Rowan - The Great Book of Hemp: The Complete Guide to the Environmental, Commercial, and Medicinal Uses of the World's Most Extraordinary Plant - 1996, Park Street Press.
Everything you wanted to know about hemp but was afraid to ask.
Sanders, Jack - Hedgemaids and Fairy Candles: The Lives and Lore of North American Wildflowers - 1993, Ragged Mountain Press.
It's obvious that Sanders loves and truly knows the wildflowers of North America. Great information on the plants that you would see growing as beautiful weeds along roadsides, fields, and in sidewalk cracks - contains a great deal of folklore. Anyone who loves wildflowers should read.
Sanfield, Steve - The Adventures of High John the Conqueror - 1996, August House Publishing.
High John the Conqueror Root is one of the premier magickal botanicals, and it has folklore and history surrounding it. This simple children's story tells the story of the hero called High John the Conqueror.
Schultes, Richard Evans & Hofmann, Albert - Plants of the Gods: Their Sacred, Healing, and Hallucinogenic Powers, 1992, Healing Arts Press.
Written by a famous ethnobotanist, a wonderful book on plants, mostly of rainforest regions, and their ritual utilization as alternate-state inducing botanicals.
Smith, Steven R. - Wylundt's Book of Incense - 1989, Samuel Weiser, Inc.
A great book about making incense, talks about the many common magickal uses of various plants.
Spencer, Lewis - The Magic and Mysteries of Mexico: The Arcane Secrets and Occult Lore of the Ancient Mexicans and Maya - 1994, Newcastle Publishing.
Mostly about magick in Mexico,contains a bit of traditional plant usage.
Tobyn, Graeme - Culpeper's Medicine: A Practice of Western Holistic Medicine - 1997, Element Books Ltd.
Fascinating reading about the herbalist Nicholas Culpeper, and his contribution to the field of Holistic Medicine in the West. Also talks about how Holistic Medicine actually works, all about the four elements, temperaments, "humours" etc.. you will learn why some herbal books will describe a certain plant as useful for helping "a cold stomach" (I always thought: "my stomach is never cold, what are they talking about?"). Explains how herbalism ties into astrology and hermetic philosophy. Contains many charts on plantery associations and goes into details on the doctrine of signatures. A must for anyone studying magickal or medicinal herbalism. Keep in mind that much of what Culpeper talks about is medicinal herbalism, though there is some overlap into magick.
Tompkins, Peter and Bird, Christopher - The Secret Life of Plants, 1973 - Harper & Row Publishers.
A must read for all herbalists, scientific study, right out the 1960's - on how plants seem to "think". Points out how the green life all around us is "much more" than it seems to be. Goes some way to suggesting why things like devas and numen of plants and trees may actually exist, and therefore gives some scientific credibility to magickal herbalism.
Ward, Bobby J. - A Contemplation Upon Flowers: Garden Plants in Myth and Literature - 1999, Timber Press Inc.
Besides discussing the folklore of garden flowers, this book also references plants through various works of literature. A different and fascinating angle to the study of herbalism.
Wells, Diana - 100 Flowers and How They Got Their Names - 1997, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.
More history of how plants got their names, touching on folklore.