Precautions In The Use 0f Herbs
“But herbs are natural!” Was a frequent cry heard in the Pagan shop I worked in back in the 1980’s and 90’s when we had to explain the reasons why people couldn’t use herbs in certain potions and incenses. Herbal “Love potions” particularly were a cause for concern as some of the ingredients in them could cause severe problems for people taking some types of antidepressants and other medication that worked on chemicals and receptors in the brain. The herbs in the potion could either block the medicine from working, or enhance it in a negative way.
Even apparently simple herbs, such as valerian which is used traditionally to help overcome insomnia and act as a mild tranquiliser can intensify the effects of anaesthetics to a dangerous level. These days many people know the dangers of mixing blood thinners and grapefruit juice, but fewer also know to avoid Pineapple (because of the Bromaline), and cranberry because they have similar effects. Even the modern trend for juicing or smoothies can cause a problem if you are taking medication, or have some health conditions. Kale, ginger, and cinnamon can all have negative effects for people who have particular health issues. Sometimes the issues vary from person to person and a consultation with a medical practitioner is needed to be able to tell you what any negative side effects might be for any one case.
Apart from using herbs in potions and food Pagans have to be careful of what ingredients go into tools such as incenses and herbs carried in pouches and sachets close to the skin. Even traditional henna tattoos, used in some rituals from the Indian subcontinent, can carry a risk. The genuine herbal henna tattoos are usually fine, but ones with “Black Henna” sometimes called "Neutral Henna" can cause a skin reaction that can scar some people for life. This is because these types of henna are not pure herbal henna, but contain a dye called paraphenylenediamine (PPD) which can cause chemical burns and severe reactions in people with sensitive skin. It is used in hair dye in lower concentrations, but even then professional hairdressers are supposed to patch test it on their clients each time they use it. Supposedly the pure henna is a reddish brown colour and anything darker than that has the PPD in it, but it’s best to steer clear of it unless you are 100% sure it is just plant product.
Other herbs to avoid skin contact with include, but are not limited to, Foxglove, Monkshood (Wolfsbane), Tobacco Leaf, Rue, Laburnum seeds, and Tonka Bean. I have seen all of these used in wealth, health, or protection, sachets worn next to the skin. Sometimes this has resulted in rashes or other health complications that could have been serious if someone talking to the person with it hadn’t known that the particular herb was toxic. This is why traditional “Flying Ointments”, and their methods of application should be treated with caution until the toxicity of the constituent herbs has been checked by someone qualified to do so.
Herbs used in chafing dishes and as the constituent of various types of incense are also ones to be wary of. Traditional divination incenses frequently included Datura (Thornapple), Mugwort, Henbane, and Hemp in their recipes to expand the focus of the mind. These days more reliable and safer psychological methods have supplanted the need for this approach, although it is still used in some traditional Craft covens. It is still worth being aware of this approach to divination though, especially if you are travelling in some of the more far-flung regions of the world and start to feel a little light-headed or ‘out of it’ in a smoky atmosphere indoors or out. It can be a symptom of one or more of these psychoactive herbs being used as a crude aerosol. If this starts to happen it is best to leave and make your excuses later if anyone notices you have left. As a side-note it’s worth knowing that the use of these herbs can leave the people affected by them highly suggestible for up to a further24 hours. So you can use this to your advantage when challenged to create a false memory to the effect that you were there all along.
When gardening you have to take the same care as you would in your magickal work, as some plants can cause skin damage by you just brushing past them. Smoke from a bonfire burning Rue, Poison Oak, Giant Hogweed, and similar plants contains substances that can cause lung damage and other negative effects. I know of a Pagan in Mexico who ended up in hospital with lung damage after pouring Rue oil (oil in which Rue has been marinated for a number of days standing in a bread rising oven) over a poppet being used in negative magick and setting light to it in a small room. Needless to say, the Brujo who made the poppet tried to claim that it was his power that caused that, but was refuted by the thoracic specialist at the hospital who explained it was caused by the Pagan inhaling the noxious fumes from the burning Rue oil.
Just remember that herbs, though a traditional part of spellcraft and Paganism as a whole, have real effects on the body and mind. If you are having any medical treatment always remember to tell your doctor if you are using herbs in any capacity, be they as a household remedy, part of your spiritual path, or cosmeticshttp://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art303608.asp. With some of the less well-known herbs it can be useful to take a sample in, both its raw state, and in whatever compound you are using it. This is because some herbs can combine with other substances to form a ‘cocktail effect’ which may have negative effects when combined with medication. If you follow these simple precautions it will help keep your spiritual path safe for yourself and others and presents a positive image of Paganism to the medical profession.
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