Determining a Plant’s Magical Qualities
by Clea Danaan
Green Witches, we invite plants into our magical
workings as ingredients in teas, incense, and herbal
remedies, and as guests on our altar, in our magical
gardens, and even in vases on the kitchen table.
Many of these plants we can look up in grimoires
and herbal encyclopedias, but sometimes we either
can’t find a given plant in our tomes of knowledge
or we don’t know what kind of plant it is. This
article will discuss how to determine a plant’s
magical qualities: what gift does it bring to the
manifest and magical planes?
The first rule of working with plants is to respect
the plant in the same way you would a teacher or
valued colleague. When you chose to work with a
plant, you are asking a divine being to work with
you. Ask the plant for permission to work with her.
Thank her for her contribution. Take only what you
need, listening to the plant to know which part
or parts to harvest. And give back a gift to the
plant or the fairies or nature devas when you remove
a plant or its parts, even from your own garden.
A hair from your head, a bit of seed, some compost,
whatever feels like the right gift in exchange.
Plants are reflections of Spirit. We are all of
the same Creator, and we all reflect all aspects
of the Divine Being. In truth, you could use any
plant or no plants at all for healing or magical
work, for everything is a reflection of Divinity.
Therefore, the relationship you have with a plant
is the most important part of your working with
Plants are, however, manifestations of particular
energies as well as reflections of the whole Universe.
When we choose a plant to work with, we are asking
it to magnify certain aspects in our own lives,
like love, prosperity, protection, or some other
desired energy. We work with them to manifest in
our lives those individual qualities that they embody.
These individual qualities are what we refer to
when we talk about a plant’s magic or medicine.
To determine the magical qualities of a plant, first
look at its form. What is its shape? Size? Color?
In biology, form follows function; in magic, function
follows form. What does the shape of the leaves,
roots, seeds, or flowers remind you of? To take
an obvious example, look at a cactus. Cactus medicine
is protection (and chastity!) which is manifested
in its thorns. Roses look like the luscious folds
of a yoni, and they bring fertility, lust, and love.
Kidney beans look like kidneys, and guess what
they help nourish the kidneys as well.
Next look at the plant’s location. Does it grow
in a ditch, in a desert, atop a cliff? A plant will
lend you the properties it has had to cultivate,
and this too is part of its magic. Determining this
can be a little more challenging. For example, cattail
grows in wetland areas. It is able to withstand
soggy roots without rotting. It therefore demonstrates
fire properties, for what it has had to cultivate
is its gift to you. Kelp is another water plant,
yet it moves with water, extracting nutrients from
its environment and balancing the amount of salt
it takes in. Its magical properties include protecting
(as from too much salt) and aiding in water travel;
its element is water.
So to first discern a plant’s medicine, examine
what it looks like and what it does. For example,
a very common plant grows from both seeds and underground
runners. You can trim it and it grows back. It holds
down the dirt to keep it from eroding. When used
magically, this plant will lend endurance, forgiveness,
and protection. Another plant has large, bright
green leaves, stretching tendrils, and round, juicy
fruits (lots of them). The leaves have five points
on them. The leaves represent money: the pentagram
is earth (money), and the big green leaf is not
unlike a certain form of currency. The tendrils
reach through the air to grasp onto strongholds;
is this not unlike the mind, how we reach out through
the air (mind) to hold onto some solid thought?
And then the fruits, well, they are fruitful! So
the magical qualities of this plant are prosperity,
fertility, and clear thinking or psychic powers.
Can you guess what they are? The first plant is
grass, the second is grape.
As I said at the beginning of this article, the
most important thing in working with plants is your
relationship with them. So while examining a plant’s
qualities will help you get started, the next step
is to learn to communicate directly with a plant.
You will gain much more information this way than
by either looking up a plant in a book or observing
it with your rational mind. Many of the things you
will learn may not even be information you could
put into a book. The energetic realm must be felt
to be understood. Writing about it is like writing
about sex; you get the general idea, but it’s nothing
like the real experience.
Here is a simple exercise to help you begin to communicate
with plants. Find a spot where you will not be interrupted,
preferably outside. Sit near the plant you want
to get to know. Feel the energy inside your body;
if you can’t feel your whole inner body, then focus
on one part like your hands. Feel the tingling sensation
or whatever you feel inside that part of your body,
or the whole body if you can. Become aware of the
earth beneath you. When you feel connected with
your body and connected with the earth, you are
centered and grounded.
Now continue to feel the energy inside you, but
bring you awareness also to the energy around you.
Just the space directly around you, your energy
field. Sit with this for a while. Really take time
to feel it, or see or hear it. Gradually expand
the area you are feeling. Ask the plant if you might
connect with it. You will get a yes or no feeling
or even the word in your mind. Honor the plant’s
answer. If it does not feel like connecting, choose
another plant until you find one that does. But
most likely the plant will be thrilled that you
want to communicate with it. With respect and thankfulness,
expand the area of your feeling to include the plant.
What does this plant feel like? What do you notice?
What does it have to share with you, to show you?
When you are finished, pull your awareness back
into your immediate body. Take some deep breaths.
Record what you discovered. This is the real way
to learn what a plant’s qualities are; this is how
shamans of long ago learned what was medicine and
how to heal using plants. You will find that what
you observed and what you learned from the plant
will concur, and what you learn from the plant will
be a deeper, more specific bit of information.
gardens and writes from Denver, Colorado. She is
the author of Sacred Land: Intuitive Gardening for
Personal, Political and Environmental Change (Llewellyn,
2007). More of her work can be found at IntuitiveGardening.net.