A Riverton Magical Herbal

My passion lies in how people bonded with plants in order to change their lives and shape their desires. Plants take on more than cultural value to me, they take on deep spiritual significance and remain at the forefront of all my work. I genuinely believe plants are unique and individual spirits which must be honored, placated, propitiated, danced for, drummed for, sang for, or prayed over in order to bond with them.  They need to mean something to you, they need to be something other than a material.  At the least, they need to be loved, picked with intention.

"The work of herbalists was accompanied by a complex spiritual tradition, including particular prayers and formulae to be recited with gathering plants, both to ensure their efficiency and to express gratitude to the plant and plant people.  When herbs were administered they were often accompanied by prayer and song."- Suzanne Crawford O'BrienComing Full Circle

In animistic spiritual paths, individual identity and natural gifts are of great importance; who you are, the spirits who ally with you and the wholeness of your spirit is a central theme in coastal medicine and shamanism.  Herbal healing like most forms of healing, revolved around ideas like soul-restoration, spirit-allies and public displays of devotion to the spirits of plants, animals and places to cure illness, calm the weather, and most importantly, ensure the safety of harvest.  That's what I was taught and I hold it as gospel.  I want to honor them as best I can as an outsider, and take care to remember what I learned about taking and giving with respect.  It's also a recurrent theme in European agrarian cult myths like those attested to by Frazer and Ginzberg; the reliance on plant virtues with the most auspicious importance.

The spiritual desire to caretake the land extends to most esoteric and mystical practices, and definitely to all animistic ones.  When you don't separate the spirit from the natural, you find a balanced respect for rhythms and cycles, the way of things and where you will fit into them.  Druids know this complete immersion of land and spirit, shamans and babalawos know it, plant spirit healers and medicine men know it.  If you look for god too high up and too far away, you will miss the doorway of nature, through which we transform, thrive and die...

"It is impossible to separate shamanic healing and herbal healing completely because these approaches converge in many was.  Like shamanism, herbal healing is strongly spiritual, being grounded in an entire belief system in which all plants and animals- even rocks, mountains, and rivers- are considered sentient beings and generous relatives of humans, having exceptional powers to assist people if treated with respect."- Nancy Turner, Ancient Pathways, Ancestral Knowledge

The shamanic taboos regarding plant spirits, plant medicine preparation and the placation of herbal/arboreal spirits is beautifully similar across the board, from English folk herbalism to Southwestern curranderismo, Cuban Santeria, West African, Afro-Colombian, Peruvian, Venezuelan and Brazilian shamanic paths... The spirit world has laid out some clear traditions surrounding herbs throughout our spiritual network.  Herbs are usually the mechanism by which people turn to magical healing/hexing, how they retrieve the spirit or kill the mind.  There's so much in common between the indigenous animism of our cultures- of MY ancestors it makes me feel all content with the way of things, our nature.
the kids in my life love coming over to rummage through my jar of wishes, I keep them year round.

Much of what I know of local plants, folklore and taboos was learned simply from growing up in local indigenous education social programs, hanging out at Daybreak Star- back in the early days of the Long House, when there was the first huge push of the late 90's to get urban indigenous and mixed kids to identify with and acknowledge the local indigenous community and preserve Puget Sound cultural identity.  The rest was just my mom and her family; their work through culture centers, elder-care programs, etc.  There were a lot of resources for local kids in the Seattle district and the programs hosted in the county to get their basic education about culturally sensitive, regionally important issues like; the salmon protection programs, regional story-telling, Duwamish people and language revivals, Salish cultures, carving, weaving and textile arts, the Puget Sound habitat and local ecology.  Most schools in King County have some program or another that introduces kids to the importance of salmon, indigenous culture and artwork as well as restoration of Duwamish land.  This means a lot of class clean-up projects, salmon release trips, Alki Beach tide tours, and education on local plant life of cultural importance; cedar, stinging nettles, poison oak, wetlands and more.

A good deal of herbal education and their traditional uses in the Northwest can be learned through practical education in community organizations/events or private naturalist circles, and from religious historians and historical societies, ethnobotonists at Burke Museum, trips to the Erna Gunther Enthnobotanical Garden, her written work, and the collective folklore of the peoples indigenous to the Puget Sound.

"Plant spirits as the sources of direct transmission magical knowledge is a feature of the shamanic world, and rich traditions of plant-allies endure in the spiritual teachings of indigenous Americans."- Daniel A. SchulkeThirteen Pathways of Occult Herbalism

I don't want to focus on the medicinal side of local herbs for this piece, though I fully intend to later.  Rather, I'd like to explore the basics on local plants and their functions in traditional charms.  Whether you choose to distinguish medicine from magic entirely or strictly divide indigenous medicine from Western medicine, there are no doubt some commonalities and curious coincidences in the folklore and mysticism of herbs between every person who reaches for them.
Below are common herbs of the Green River I've come to read about or learn about practically in these last 20 years in Seattle.  While all Puget Sound Coastal tribes have beliefs that vary tribe to tribe, clan to clan, family to family, there is a lot of general lore because of shared linguistic and ancestral heritages between these people, especially those tribes centered around the South Sound.  Among the shared lore regarding cultural figures and myths is shared herbal medicinal and magical practices and taboos.  That lore is the best place to start when it comes to the green path of the Green River, about the herbs here and how to understand them on a deeper level than sheer occultism.  Most of the herbs I'll be listing have applications found in local herbal charms and herbal medicine from the Green, White and Duwamish River areas; the biodiversity of the river is consistent from Muckleshoot to Duwamish and there is a lot of shared lore, myth and herbalism in this region.

First, locally indigenous herbs with traditional symbolism in charms, second; those indigenous plants which are not sourced in local charms but are sourced in occult herbalism, and third; those which are commonly found here but are not indigenous. This is by no means a perfect or complete list.  The plants, animals and areas listed below are ones I'm personally most familiar with through lore, legend, literature, culture and experience. 
Arboreal Masters
  • Cedar~ the holiest tree of the Northwest; industry, purity, ritual, the spirits, offerings, utility, healing, medicine, death, life, rebirth, divination, soul retrieval
  • Fir~ fire, fishing, hunting, protection, weather, healing, divination
  • Hemlock~ typically found in the highlands, though associated with water; hunting, fishing, protection, purification (when swept over or scrubbed over body in combination with water)
  • Madrona~ world tree, beauty, femininity, nourishment, health, art
  • Willow~ healing, strength, vitality
  • Spruce~ weather, water, rain, healing
  • Cherry~ art, weaving, health
  • Western Yew~ healing, luck, strength, magic weaponry, protection, spirits
  • Hazelnut tree~ for whom Tukwila is named; hazelnuts grow along the river in droves and represent wisdom, strength and conflict avoidance in both local lore and most tree lore
  • Paper Birch
*Indigenous, but not mentioned (to my knowledge) in the local herbal lore: 

  • Oregon Oak (Quercus garryana)~ I use the galls to make sacred necromancy ink, or in hexing charms, or to communicate messages to the underworld by sending it down the river 
  • Beech~  tree of writing and communication
  • White Alder~ grows literally everywhere, hell, there's a town near the Mountain named for the alder.  They spring up in our wetlands and take over, they're used in tool making and tool magic
  • Western Juniper~ drank in a tea for love, luck, purification and protection
*Introduced and sourced in esoteric herbalism-  these trees being some of the most commonly found in Riverton while not indigenous.  Though they have no known traditional uses in local culture, they are so common and plentiful, they are now used in both medicine and magic by myself and others.

    • Black Locust~ used to attract bees and the thorns can be used to lieu of blackthorn
    • Empress Tree~ introduced by our Chinese immigrant population; it symbolizes femininity and good luck
    • Rowan~ the magic of rowan is traditional to Scottish and English magic and is used regularly by witches of that decent or lineage of magic in their work right here in Riverton.
    • Holly~ the berries are considered spirit food, along with snowberry and ivy, forms a trinity of food meant to be served in shamanic rites of propitiation to raven, crow and robin.
Herbal Masters 

"Through the use of herbal medicine, simple rituals or complex ceremonies, healers sought to restore a healthy sense of self.  This meant restoring a clear sense of individual identity and personal autonomy, while simultaneously affirming one's responsibilities towards ones kin and community." from Notes on Salish Medicine, Magic and Herbs by Suzanne Crawford O'Brien.

hairy vetch
Love Charms~ herbs reportedly used in love charms in this region.
  • Vetch (giant)~ all parts being reportedly used in love charms, Gunther relates that this had particular use in love spells as an edible aphrodisiac and sympathetic charm, in charms of marriage and fidelity
  • Trillium~ the bulb is used in a sympathetic charm, an edible aphrodisiac, and in the fashion of an ointment or rub to draw attraction
  • False Huckleberry~ used similar to a wand, to ensnare through touch
  • Rattlesnake Orchid and White Bog Orchid~ reported by Gunther and Turner in traditional love charms; the juice of the root was likely the component used
  • Bedstraw (Galium triflorum)~ used as a body rub, used widely as a love charm
  • Tiger Lily~ does not grow often down in the valley but once in a while in the highlands you'll find them wild.  "Flowers used as charm for love and wealth."- Nancy Turner
  • Woolly Sunflower~ said to be used in an ointment of ensnarement 
*Indigenous but unsourced in local herbal folklore- These being native to the area and known in Western occultism for their use in love magic.

  • Bleeding Heart~ used in love keep and draw magic
  • Lupine~ falls under Venus, ruled by water, used in sachets to draw love
  • Elder~ both spirit food and love draw flower traditional to strewing mixes, Venus
  • Bunchberry~ ruled by Venus and water, draws love
  • Vanilla Leaf~ used in sacred bundles and potion mixes to draw love
  • Dogwood~ both spirit food and love draw flower
  • Cherry~ though primarily used in basket weaving, it was said to also have ties to contraception and fertility
  • Enchanter's Nightshade~ as the name implies, used to enchant those you desire, in a use like a wand or as a sprinkling branch
  • Wild Rose
  • Mock Orange
  • Morning Glory
*Introduced and sourced in occult herbalism- These being perhaps not native to the area, but they are extremely common and well-known in Western love magic.

    • Lilac~ used in Western occult herbalism to attract beauty, peace and joy
    • lavender~ a popular herb now, introduced and found only in managed lands, used in love dream mixes
    • Apple~ always draws love, sacred to the feminine
    • Woody Nightshade~ Introduced but dearly loves Ipomoea and Hedera, usually creeps where they go
    • Periwinkle~ Vinca grows wide and far now and is ideal in Western occult herbalism
    • Fig~ some say the tree is damned by the Bible, others say it's the ideal fruit of Aphrodite, I say it is a perfect addition to love edibles and since it grows well up here, I use it often
    • Creeping Jasmine~ climbs over the hollies and chokes chimney stacks, its tincture is perfect in love perfumes
    • Blackberry~ a true Seattlite is required to love blackberries, which were introduced a long time ago to this region.  Now they are an invasive hallmark of our cuisine and a curse upon our gardens.  The indigenous blackberry, Rubus ursinus, is less invasive, very tasty but a little harder to find in the wild.  These berries are great in all love magic

  • Snowberry (Symphoricarpos)~ predicts fecundity of salmon and river health
"The Green River people say that when these berries are plentiful, there will be many dog salmon, for this white berry is the eye of the dog salmon."-Erna Gunther, Ethnobotany of Western Washington.

  • Water lily~ used to call upon dreams, communicate with ancestors
  • Fir (Pseudotsuga)~ The cones were used in sympathetic weather magic and divination
  • Cedar~ cedarwood spirit boards were used in divination and spirit propitiation
  • Skunk cabbage~ used whole or even in a tea to avert bad dreams
*Indigenous but unsourced in local lore-
  • Morning Glory~ used in Southwestern herbalism for divination, and can be used for similar purposes, as well as binding magic
  • Enchanters Nightshade~ used to divine and ensnare
  • Yarrow~ the stalks are used in casting lots, love charms, and in IChing divination
  • Black Cottonwood~ known as a "spirited" or inhabited tree, blesses boats
  • Stinging Nettle~ protects sailors and purified hunters- this I've seen used in person
  • Douglas Fir~ the cones of this are used for these charms
  • Trillium~ thought to bring rain if picked by children (Gunther, 29), or fog (Turner
  • Skunk Cabbage~ protects sailors, travelers and hunters- another I've witnessed used personally
  • Water Lily~ Calls the winds
  • Devils Club~ protects hunting tools and hunters alike, calms the weather and rains
  • Hemlock tree~ drives away rain and draws fish
"Not only shamans but other individuals, too, use plants as special charms, for spiritual protection and for ritual cleansing, both internal and external, especially those who are in ritually powerful or vulnerable states,"- Nancy Turner, Ancient Pathways, Ancestral Knowledge

Luck/Protection~ Tending to be aromatic in nature and beautiful in form
  • Stinging Nettle~ purification, alertness, protection. 
  • Wild Celery~ used to drive away evil and the dead, used in general protection throughout the area
  • Spruce~ used to protect during hunting
  • Cedar~ used as a scrub, sprinkling branch to purify the body before spiritual work, or used to literally sweep the body (a form of herbal healing utilized throughout Afro-diasporic as well as indigenous Mexican shamanic practices).  Most ceremonies I've attended here are not only festooned with cedar boughs and branches, the dried wood smoke is used for smudging large areas, the planks are used to cook ceremonial salmon and I've seen the trunk steam-bent for sacred canoe carving- though this was further north in Tulalip territory. 
  • Tiger lily~ draws wealth (Turner)
  • Pond Lilly~ protects from the dead and drives away illness
  • Douglass Fir~ Cones used in charms to protect from the weather while fishing, and to calm or bring the rains
  • Juniper~ drank in a tea for luck and protection (Turner, Gunther)
  • False Hellebore~ the root of which is used for ceremonial protection
  • Devils Club~ protects against the weather, the bark draws luck
  • Thistle~ good luck root
*Introduced (used in European or/and Eastern magical herbalism):
    • Rowan~ In Old-world witchery, charms involving rowan are commonplace for protection and healing charms.
    • Empress Tree~ luck for a girl
    • Golden Chain~ luck for a boy
HealingAlmost all herbs listed above have some medicinal and healing application in both ethnobotanical records and in modern herbalism.  I'll only be listing a few common herbs of healing which are indigenous to this area and used in traditional medicine and they'll be focused on later. 

  • Cedar
  • Spruce
  • Poplar (Black Cottonwood)
  • Red willow
  • Wild currant
  • Hedgenettle
  • Deer fern
  • Horsetail
  • False lily of the valley
*Introduced wild-growing healers:
    • Lemon balm- Melissa officinalis- a common herb for decoctions, teas and poltices
    • St. Johnswort- Hypericum perforatum-(invasive)- famed in hoodoo magic, new here
    • Scotchbroom- Cytisus scoparius- favored by Gerard and Culpepper

Garden of Aversion
  • Stinging nettle
  • Wild celery~ locally associated with curse charms
  • Poison oak
  • Queen Anne's Lace
  • *Poison Hemlock (not native but has local lore anyway due to its long use)
  • Hog's weed
  • Wild Rose hedge
  • Thimbleberry
"The motive in the case of these Indians is simply a belief that the plant itself is animated by a conscious and more or less powerful spirit, who must be propitiated before the people can safely partake of the fruits or roots which are supposed to be part of his body."-James George Frazier on Northwest indigenous seasonal taboos, The Golden Bough

Riverton Rootwork:  Roots and bulbs are said to have been used in magical charms by the indigenous groups of the Green River as well as many Coastal Salish tribes.  These days in modern American magic, we turn to a lot of roots for uses as fetishes, scapegoats, alrauns and other work.  It's nice to not only know that rootwork is part of the traditional charms of the area, but that it was used in similar fashions in many cultures.  Listed below are both roots known to be used in reported charms, and roots which have been introduced that are used in magical rootwork today.
  • *Poison Hemlock (Not Indigenous but sourced in local lore)~ luck
  • Bitterroot~ a holy root representing people, the seasons and spirit powers
  • Trillium Bulb~ love Draw
  • Dandelion Root~ diviner's Root
  • Arrow Root~ health/ nourishment
  • Skunk Cabbage Root~ healing
  • Old Man Root~ Protection
  • Vetch Root~ love draw and fidelity
  • Water Lily~ healing
  • Thistle Root~ Luck drawing, sweetness
*Indigenous unsourced, used in occult herbalism:
  • Oxalis~ used in both love and luck spells, charms love and brings peace to a fighting home
  • Oregon grape root~ draws love and wealth, improves health
    • Orris Root~ love magic, spirit control, glamour and peace 
    • Pearwood roots~ beauty and sex
    • Solanum Dulcamara~ binding, dreams, protection and death
Ediblesfor feasts, festivals of first fruits and harvest, for spirit plates and ceremonies
  • Wild rose hips
  • Crab-apple
  • Cascara (berries)
  • Arrow Root (this is sold locally in flour form and makes a good starch substitute.  You can find it in the wetlands easily)
  • Dandelion (the flowering heads of which are a staple in local indigenous cuisines, often mixed into nettle soup)
  • Agaricus campestris (meadow mushroom)
  • Stinging Nettle (the soup of which is a potlatch staple)
  • Salal berry (you'll see this referenced in Muckleshoot territory most often; the berries are mashed and formed into bread, reserved for special people on special occasions and typically stored in a bentwood box)
  • Honeysuckle 
  • Edible Camas
  • Indian Plum
  • Brake Fern root
  • Salmonberry
  • Thimbleberry
  • Huckleberry
  • Gooseberry
  • Elderberry and flower 
  • Nymphaea polysepala
  • Mint
*Introduced edibles in the area:
    • Garlic flower
    • Rainier cherries
    • Italian prunes
    • Pears
    • lemon balm
Spirit Foodof deep importance, the concept of a "spirit plate" exists in many cultures, but is especially important in my family. Leaving food for spirits is just a normal thing I was taught to do; my mom does it on holidays, my sister does it for certain saints and dead relatives, my auntie (mom's sister) is Cowichan and spirit plates are a huge deal for their culture. I do it every week for my dead and familiars. Usually it's actual plates of cooked food, but sometimes it's portions from harvest.

  • Spirits & Ghosts~ snowberry is also known locally as ghostberry or "corpse food" because of its traditional association with the dead and serpents, as well as raven and salmon.
  • Bear~ crab apple (Arthur Ballard reported Green River use of this), dogwood berry, glacier lily (Turner)
  • Deer~ bunchberry, red elderberry (also associated with death according to Turner)
  • Salmon~ snowberry, hazelnut
  • Raven & Crow~ ivy berry, vanilla leaf, twinberry ("crow food" to the Green River people, (Gunther, 48)
Gifts of the Land:
  • Decayed Cedar~ a great base for incense.
  • Bonewood~ found all over wetlands and bogs, this old white husk of a tree that once was is a vessel for the dead, a conduit through which moves that magic that bonds.
  • Riverbed clay (oldgrowth clay)~ best used in medicine dolls or to shape idols (when mixed with mountain ash) of the spirits.
  • Reed~ invaluable as a weaving material, perfect to make mats and altar cloths, baskets and offering plates.
"Control yourself; take only what you need from it."-MGMT
On Harvesting Ethics

  1. Never pick plants endangered in the environment, especially not the indigenous plants in restoration areas and wetlands,  the integrity of these sensitive areas depends on our being conscientious. 
  2. There are some plants that are grown on public land that shouldn't be tampered with, like trillium and hellebore.  Second, many wildflowers are absolutely essential to the well-being of bees and birds.  It's easy not to think about picking a flower here and there but it adds up over time, with enough people.  I'm very conscious of trying to harvest from safe places; I dig harvesting off private land of family and friends, or in places where ethical wild-crafting and urban foraging is encouraged.
  3. Make sure you have the proper permits and abide the foraging map, that's a must.  Stealing from protected habitats is not a good way to respect the land.

How to contribute to the Green River:

  • Taking courses in ethical wild-crafting as well as responsible urban horticulture: individuals and private groups offer ethical wildcrafting and foraging classes.  Seward Park, Schmitz Park, Camp Long and the Tukwila Community Center offer nature walks, ecological lectures and family community events geared towards preservation of the entire South Seattle area, specializing on the Duwamish river restoration projects.  South Seattle College offers a horticulture program that emphasizes ecological restoration and green landscaping.
  • Greenbelt care: Indigenous plant restoration; the Duwamish greenbelt is subject to heavy pollution which is why the fishing culture, a huge aspect of the river culture, has been disrupted.  Wetland restoration, clean-up walks and anti-pollution campaigns are vital to the salmon culture of the river and to maintaining the health of the river banks.  There are almost weekly community events hosted by a diverse list of groups dedicated to maintaining the green ideology shared commonly among Seattlites. See; Duwamish AliveDuwamish River Cleanup Coalition, and Seattle Parks and Rec for opportunities to balance the river, and your spirituality.
  • Giving support and time and receiving education through the Duwamish Long House; attend the lectures, urban nature walks, potlatches, weaving classes, story-telling and other incredible and informative events which are geared towards celebrating and preserving the local culture, something the Duwamish people have generously shared with natives and non-natives alike.  Acknowledging the land and its first people is the first step in building a respectful relationship with the land. I acknowledge the Duwamish people as a tribe, I acknowledge their sovereignty and honor their continuing commitment to the land.  Thank you.

Resources and Further Reading...

  • Roots and Branches: The Religious Heritage of Washington State by David M. Buerge
  • Ethnobotany of Western Washington: The Knowledge and Use of Indigenous Plants by Native Americans by Erna Gunther
  • Keeping It Living: Traditions of Plant Use and Cultivation on the Northwest Coast of North America by Douglas E. Deur & Nancy J. Turner
  • Ancient Pathways, Ancestral Knowledge: Ethnobotany and Ecological Wisdom of Indigenous Peoples of Northwestern North America by Nancy Turner
  • Cedar: Tree of Life to the Northwest Coast Indians by Hilary Stewart
  • Island Year by Hazel Heckman  
  • Salish Myths and Legends: One People's Stories by M. Terry Thompson, Steven M. Egesdal
  • Coming Full Circle: Spirituality and Wellness Among Native Communities in the Pacific Northwest by Suzanne Crawford O'Brien
  • Indian Legends of the Pacific Northwest by Ella E. Clark
  • Northwest Foraging: The Classic Guide to Edible Plants of the Pacific Northwest by Doug Benoliel
  • Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West by Michael Moore
  • The Golden Bough by Sir James George Frazer
  • 13 Pathways of Occult Herbalism by Daniel A. Schulke
  • Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs by Scott Cunningham
Resource Links:
Duwamish Alive Coalition

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