There is something special about making a spiritual connection with the natural world and then gathering the magical ingredients there. In this article, author Emma Kathryn makes a great case for giving magical foraging a try. She also provides some excellent tips for getting started.
Important note: Please be careful when foraging. It is vital that you seek out multiple, reliable sources of information for plant identification. The information in this article is not provided for plant identification purposes. It is provided for entertainment purposes only and is not intended as a guide to what plants to consume or otherwise employ.
The world is a mysterious place. Seemingly separate things are linked, if only you look a little beneath the surface to see through the shimmer that is the mundane.
Life is a web, like that of Anansi, the many-eyed, many-legged spider god. Sometimes the threads that connect are tangible – can be seen and felt – and yet others are gossamer thin: barely there. All but invisible, but there nonetheless.
As I write this, Beltane is so very close. You can feel it in the land: a surge of energy bubbling up through the earth and bursting forth with tremendous beauty – a mirage of sound, colour, and scent. Spring is well under way now. Where I live, the land is blooming. Indeed, spring is a great time to begin foraging.
I know not everyone is apt to try wild eating (each to their own and all that jazz) but there are so many uses for the items you gather – you don’t just have to eat them. In fact, as an animist, obeah woman, and witch, I know firsthand just how much of an impact foraging can have on your craft.
Connection to Land & Genius Loci
Consciously connecting with the land and the genius loci (the protective spirit or indwelling spirits of a place) is an important part of my witchcraft and obeah practices. And foraging is an excellent way of beginning this work. The benefits of foraging are many.
Firstly, foraging is a great way to begin to get to know the land and what the cycles of the season look like where you live. In my latest book, Witch Life: A Practical Guide to Making Every Day Magical, I describe the sabbats that make up the wheel of the year not as single days, but instead as markers of the season. Afterall, the wheel trundles ever onwards and the seasons manifest in many ways in all places. You’ll soon notice the nuance between different spaces – even the differences that occur within the same place. Even gardens have microclimates.
Of course, getting out and about in the land where you live is the first step in foraging! On these excursions, it’s only natural that you will begin to notice the plants, trees, and flowers that grow there. Now, all the green things are growing at this time. But truth be told, there is much to learn in each of the seasons. Spring is a good time for identifying the new shoots and young leaves of plants and trees, not forgetting the flowers, including the tree blossoms. All of these can help with the identification of what is growing where you live and can ultimately help develop that spiritual relationship.
Be warned: identification can be tricky, especially for beginners. And positive ID is important – vitally so. But don’t let that put you off! There are lots of good resources for the would-be forager.
- Books – A good identification guide is a must. Choose one that’s small enough to take with you on your outings but with
enough information to provide a positive ID. Good pictures are essential. You’ll need pictures that show different parts of the plants. This is because a positive ID requires looking at leaf shape and placement, what the flowers look like, and where the specimen grows as well as size and spread. Used book shops, flea markets, and the internet are all great for finding a bargain. Wherever you get your book, make sure it is relevant to where you live. A book about British plants might well suit me but will be of little use if you live elsewhere.
- Apps – Most of us take our phones with us when we go out, so it makes sense to make the most of technology. Plant identification apps are easy and accessible, and a good many of them are free. Take some time to explore several. You’ll want one that’s simple to use when you’re out in the field. A good tip is to check the accuracy of an app by trying it out on plants you already know. Of course, apps are great, but don’t just rely on the app. I find it useful to use several different methods of ID before committing to picking the plant.
- Social Media Groups – The internet and social media in particular get a bit of a bad rap. To be sure, they have their downsides, but they also have their good points too. I am in several foraging groups. Some are general foraging groups and others more specialised. These are a good source of collective knowledge. The right group is a bit like a hive mind and can provide a good learning environment for beginners and more experienced foragers alike.
What To Make With Your Foraged Finds
Wild food is something that many people are interested in for many different reasons and is perhaps the most obvious use of your foraged finds. And rightly so too! Wild food can be delicious. As such, you might well consider using it in your food offerings and libations. (But again: food isn’t all that can be made with your foraged treasures.)
- Floral Honey – At this time of year, floral honeys and syrups are delicious and super easy to make. I am currently infusing
honey with flowering currant, but you can use any edible flower. In spring, wild violets are another of my favourites too. To make a floral honey, simply take your flowers and give them a little shake (and a quick rinse if you must) and pop them into a clean jar. Pour over enough honey so that the flowers are completely covered. Put the lid on and leave to infuse for a week. Strain the honey into a clean jar and voilà! [Note: If making small batches, it is fine to use fresh flowers. However, to extend the shelf life, first dry the flowers on a warm windowsill for a couple of days until they are dry to the touch.
- Incense – I love making my own incense, and it is so easy to do. The added benefit of making your own incense withmaterials you have taken the time to go out and gather is twofold. Firstly, there is an element of sacrifice in the act of taking time. In today’s busy world, making time to spend in nature is almost an act of rebellion in itself. Secondly, making incense using items gathered from the local landscape is an excellent way of bringing the genius loci (the conscious aliveness and unique spirit of the land) into your magical and spiritual practice.
- Infused Oils – The process of infusing oil is almost identical to that of making floral honey (see above). The most obvious difference is that you’ll be using oil instead of honey. You’ll also be extending the infusing time. Infusing your oil for one week will do at a push, but aim for around three or four weeks to really extract the goodness. Once you have your infused oil, you can then use it in many ways. You can use it to anoint yourself and your ritual items, and also to create other products such as ointments (see below), lotions, and creams.
- Ointment – Ointments are made using infused oils. But while oils are liquid, ointments are solids that are massaged into the skin. Dandelion ointment is good for the skin and easy to make at this time of year. First, you will need to make dandelion infused oil. Next, gently heat the oil and add beeswax. I use a ratio of 1 part beeswax to 8 parts oil. You can alter the consistency by adding more oil or beeswax. (Always be careful if you have allergies or sensitivities. Dandelions, for example, are in the daisy or aster family, so you’ll want to avoid oils or ointments containing dandelions if you’re allergic to the daisy family, which includes ragweed.)
- Washes & Waters – These are particularly good for using the magical qualities and associations of the plant materials gathered. A very simple way of making a wash is to steep the plant material in boiling water for around six minutes before straining. You can use this water in various ways. For example, you might add a (non-toxic, non-allergenic) plant water to baths for ritual bathing. Or, you might use a plant water to clean your house, which will bring the protective and beneficial aspects of the plant spirit into your home. You can also create washes and waters by steeping the plant matter in a good quality alcohol such as vodka or any spirit that is around 40% alcohol. Be sure to dilute such potions before using them to clean your home. (For example, you could add just a tiny splash to your mop water or a few drops to a cleaning product.)
With these ideas, you can begin to bring the land and the genius loci into your practice through the simple act of learning about, and then gathering, items from your local landscape. It is through these gentle and thoughtful interactions with the land that our spirit mingles and merges with those of nature. You’ll surely find that foraging is a beautiful way to add another dimension to your magical and spiritual work.
Emma Kathryn is a witch and obeah woman. She lives in Robin Hood country in England with her family where she reads tarot, practises witchcraft and drink copious amounts of coffee. She is also the author of Reclaiming Ourselves (Gods & Radicals Press), Reclaiming Food (Gods & Radicals Press) and her newest, Witch Life (Llewellyn).
Listen to Emma Kathryn on Magic Monday Podcast here: