Ancient Traditions: Garbling on Samhain

“Garbling” is herbal-parlance for working with herbs, which according to the ancient healers, was a sacred task. Once the raw herbal material has been harvested and dried, or infused into oil, honey, or alcohol, garbling is the next stage of transmuting plant material into healing ointments, salves, elixirs, and teas.


Rolling and tying dried mugwort into magical smudge sticks

Samhain (sometimes pronounced “sow-en”) is the Wiccan New Year, the time when the veil between the spirit world and the world of the living is thinnest. It is honored as an especially potent time for medicine making, when we can ask for the guidance and blessings of our ancestors – from whom we have received the ancient ways of healing.

Here is some useful equipment for YOU – my apprentice kitchen witches – to have on hand for your Samhain garbling! 

  • Scissors
  • Cheese Cloth
  • Strainers of various sizes
  • Funnels
  • Clean bottles and jars
  • Mixing bowls
  • Large platter or cookie sheet (for separating leaves, seeds, flowers, roots, etc…)
  • If you are lucky, you have an herb press. If you are more lucky, you process all your herbs by hand – infusing your strength, energy and healing intentions into every drop. As an added benefit, you receive the healing spirit through your hands of whatever herb you are working with, and preparing herbal infused oils in this way is especially satisfying.

And some easy recipes for your own homemade medicine cabinets:

  • Mullein oil with garlic, strained and bottled for ear infections (use a q-tip for easy application)
  • Usnea tinctured in Vodka with Apple Cider Vinegar (about 1 T vinegar per 1 C of vodka) – strain, bottle, and label. Nature’s most wonderful antibiotic (next to goldenseal…)
  • Any oils* that you have put up for at least a full moon cycle can be decanted (or strained) through cheesecloth. (My favorite oils are arnica, calendula, and plantain, for example.) Keep as a liquid for an ointment, or make a simple salve by putting over a very low, gentle heat, and slowly adding beeswax (more or less to desired room-temperature consistency, I recommend starting with a few slivers or 1/4 C wax pellets for every 1 C of oil. *Olive oil is excellent, easily accessible, and heat tolerant. I use Olive Oil when I plan to make a salve. Safflower oil is high in linoleic acid, which aids with cellular repair – therefore, I reserve the Safflower Oil for ointments (like my Achy Joints with Arnica, Nettle, and Juniper Berries) and preserve it with gluten-free liquid Vitamin E.
  • Remember to COMPOST all your spent plant materials!

Extra Witchy guidance from the spirit of my mother, who taught me everything she knew about the wild and holy ways of plant medicine: 

  • Reserve a part of every medicine for the Goddess(es)/Gods – put a shot glass of tincture on your altar or hearth, anoint holy pictures or statues in your home with your healing oils
  • Intention is very important – don’t make medicine when you are angry! or sick! or distracted! Offer your mindfulness, your acute awareness and your love to this process, and garbling becomes a divine meditation practice
  • Burn incense, light candles, sing enchanting and sacred songs. Your medicine is the balance of sound, scientific evidence and research – and the wives tales of centuries of medicine making by your ancestors. Invoke this balance, and trust in the power of a few simple, wild plants to nourish, heal and enlighten yourself, your family, your community – and the world.

Blessed Be! – Arwen

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