Herbalists and Witches: A Brief History

“The soul is a breath of living spirit, that with excellent sensitivity, permeates the entire body to give it life.  Just so, the breath of the air makes the Earth fruitful.  Thus the air is the Soul of the Earth, moistening it, greening it.”  St. Hildegard of Bingen- I walk along the foggy narrow trail nestled in the gold, green purple hues of Autumn prairie grass. Fuzzy caterpillars cling to the flora. My boots and pants are soaked from the Earth’s moisture. 

I have sauntered into another world.  The wild natural world.  The crispness of the air signals the deep knowing inside of me of the connection to the change of the season, the thinning of the veil.  I understand why my Ancestors celebrated Autumn as a magical sacred time.  A commotion to my right distracts my thoughts, I raise my head, my breath visible.  A large antlered buck gallops 50 yards from my position.  He gracefully climbs the terrace ridge above me.  His body quivers from the exertion.  I stand still, fully aware it is rutting season, poised to run to the nearest tree if he feels inclined to be aggressive.  The buck lets out a loud snort, echoing through the ridge, his breath misting out in the thin cool air.  The veil thins, my wild world becomes the fog, caterpillar and the snorting buck.  I would love to stay as I reluctantly hike back to my car, my calling is where the fog meets the prairie grass.  The herbalist in me is not a title I wear like a name tag.  I do not speak much about what I feel deep in my bones.  It is sacred to me.  The knowledge passed down to me from the matriarchs of my family.  To me, the natural world is communing with the live beings of plant, animal, and mineral.

I feel at times, the modern herbalist has lost some of it’s magic and sacredness.  It may sometimes focus more on the names of plants and what it’s use is.  What isn’t taught so much is the feeling a plant may have.  What can it teach us about ourselves?  I am often not taken seriously because I talk and sing to plants.  I may call a plant a she or a he.  I come to realize that I don’t really care that I am not taken seriously.  I can walk in my garden, and greet my passionflower.  She wraps a tendril around my finger.  I ask permission to harvest her crowns for tea.

I am grateful that in this modern world, I can freely sing to my plants, make my teas and tinctures and not be burned at the stake for it like so many wise women of the past.

“The witch was an empiricist: she relied on her senses rather than on faith or doctrine, she believed in trial and error, cause and effect. Her attitude was not religiously passive, but actively inquiring.  She trusted her ability to find ways to deal with disease, pregnancy and childbirth whether through medications or charms.” Barbara Ehrenreich - Witches, Midwives, and Nurses: A History of Women Healers

Healers/Herbalist were mainly women who became huge targets for religion and politics during the witch hunts that took place from 1450 to 1750.  It is estimated the 35,000 to 50,000 were executed during this time.  Herbalist were vital to the small communities.  Providing comfort to all no matter their place in society.  It was truly Herbalism for all.


In the United States we had the Salem Witch trials between 1692-1693; 20-25 (mostly) women were executed..

Arthur Miller wrote his fictional famous play, inspired by the trials, called "The Crucible."

“We are what we always were in Salem, but now the little crazy children are jangling the keys of the kingdom and common vengeance writes the law!”- Arthur Miller, The Crucible.


A list of herbs used by the Salem “witches” can be found in the Salem Witch Museum is Salem, Mass. They are plants still used today by Herbalists:


Much wise woman knowledge was lost during the trials.  These wise women passed their knowledge along a generation of healers.  Their knowledge was so important to their families and communities.  Many paid their lives for this sacred calling.  One excellent resource is from Hildegard of Bingen.  Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) was a German Benedictine nun who spent her life teaching others about healing with animal, plant and mineral.  Her collection of books survived the trials and are still studied by Herbalists today.


Putting all this in perspective, I can handle not being taken seriously for my ways. I will let out my best cackle and honor the women who paved this spiral path.


Barbara Ehrenreich - Witches, Midwives, and Nurses: A History of Women Healers

Arthur Mille: The Crucible

Hildegard of Bingen , Physica

1 comment

  • John

    CDC, WHO, FDA still killing the knowledge of the wise, and hiding the truth.

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