Herbalists, Alchemists, and Gardening
I am in a very “planty” mood this week.
I have talked before (in this blog) about my thoughts on what it takes to be master herbalist or alchemist. For those of you who have missed my thoughts they go something like this:
I’ve always admired REAL herbalists and alchemists. By “real” I mean those who actually go so far as to cultivate their own magical plants. Basically – I have a great deal of respect for herbalists and alchemists who actually grow a lot of what they use (or who can find it growing wild and can cultivate it that way). I am fortunate to know a few of these people and it’s always a joy to listen to them. I always learn so much.
Recently I ran across a person who fancies herself a master herbalist because, as she put it, she has a gift for it. Basically, her mastery amounts to making shit up as she goes, or mixing together herbal recipes from a book. She buys her herbs dried from a distributor, and simply mixes them together. Sorry – that’s not mastery. That would be like me making a recipe from a cookbook and calling myself a master chef. Or throwing hotdogs in my macaroni and cheese and calling it steak and eggs.
Next, let me point out that being an herbalist is not about having a “natural gift” for it. That’s actually a great insult to those who have really worked hard at the art and know their shit. No – in the case of herbalism it really is about knowing botany, being a gardener, and knowing the historical, magickal, and medicinal uses of plants. This means years spent researching, learning, growing, and blending. It takes a lot of PRACTICE and work.
Real herbalists and alchemists really know the plants they’re working with intimately, not just their dead, dried form off a store shelf. Every true herbalist and alchemist I’ve ever known has been a gardener themselves. I guess what I admire most about those who “do” is they actually do the work to obtain such proficiency and skill.
I’ve always tried to grow some of what I make into the magickal mixtures I produce. Now that I’m older and have more time, I’m able to grow more of what I use and I’m enjoying the process of learning botany and gardening.
Please note I make no claims of being a master herbalist myself. I am not. But I am good with plants and I enjoy them (I always have). I’ve been growing plants since I was in my teens and started growing medicinal plants (aloe, chomomile, St. John’s Wort etc..) in my twenties. Yet I’m merely a magician who enjoys gardening, who makes her own magickal blends, grows a lot of her own stuff these days, and has had the privilege of experiencing the difference between incenses and oils made from off the shelf herbs by off-the-shelf herbalists vs. those blends made by people who are actual magical herbalists and alchemists in the truest sense of the title.
It just irritates me to know how much work goes into mastering such an art and then running into your standard know-it-all who pretends to be a master herbalist when clearly this person wouldn’t know Conium maculatum from Pastinaca sativa without an internet connection (let alone by sight in the wild). I find this “faked” knowledge both annoying and insulting to those who have worked for it.
For those friends of mine who are what I consider master herbalists and who are always willing to share tips and tricks with me about growing my magickal (and sometimes other) plants — thank you! I am truly thankful for your experience and knowledge. Please know I would never insult you by pretending to be something I’m not.
And for those off-the-shelf herbalists who hate me after reading this (or who hated me before), I just call it like I see it. You can’t really claim to be a master herbalist while joking with everyone that you have the black thumb of death. You also can’t practice magick while looking down your nose at it. Just sayin’… 😉