Practical Magic(k)

A Beginner’s Guide to Oils, Salves and Tinctures

“[The cause of magical phenomena] is the series of ‘real’ phenomena, called the operations of ceremonial Magic. These consist of: sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and mind.”

~The Lesser Key of Solomon: Goetia by S.L. Mathers and A. Crowley

It’s nearly the beginning of autumn—the best time of the year for pumpkin spice and performing old-fashioned, natural magic. Below is a beginner’s guide on how to make your own oils, salves, tinctures and tonics for ritual use. Through the sense of smell, essential oils are employed; through the sense of touch, salves and balms are topically applied; and through taste, tinctures are administered or added in ritual for consumption. Some notable tonics include: Aurum Potabile, Universal Medicine, Balm of Azoth, and Ros Vitae. You can find the herbs which comprise them readily available online.

The Basics

1. Dried Herbs

To begin, pick your herbs. You can either harvest them fresh just before the flowers open at dawn, or, of course, straight home from the supermarket.

The traditional method of drying herbs, which is suitable indoors or outdoors, is to cut the herbs once excess moisture has been evaporated. Then, you throw away any imperfections or debris, and tie the plants into a bundle. Cover the bundle with a paper bag to avoid direct light and keep the leaves and flowers facing downward. Hang them somewhere where there is sunlight and dry air. This method will usually take about a month, depending on the type of herbs you have chosen.

The quick way to dry herbs is by oven: set it on the lowest possible temperature with the door open. Arrange the herbs across a baking sheet and place them on lowest rack, making sure to turn the herbs frequently until they are sufficiently crisp.

2. Infused Oil

To make your own, steep the plant in an oil for several weeks. It is preferably to use dried herbs to avoid spoilage than fresh ones.

Solar infusion: place the dried plants into a glass jar and cover them with a carrier oil that is shelf-stable (e.g. organic olive pre-mixed with vitamin E oil). Cap the jar tightly and place in a warm window, covered with a bag or box so that the oil doesn’t get direct sunlight. Shake the jar once a day and check that the herbs are always submerged; if the herbs absorb the oil, then simply add more oil. Infuse for three weeks or until the oil takes on a rich color and scent. Strain the mixture with cheesecloth and store in amber glass bottles, making sure to squeeze the oil out of the herbs.

Quick method: heat the herbs over very low heat (100 to 140 F) for five hours, cool, and strain.


3. Essential Oils

For this, you need at least 4 cups of the fresh plant, distilled water, a pot with a lid or a plate that seals it entirely. Make sure the entire pot and lid/plate will fit in the fridge. Fill a little more than half the pot with distilled water once the chopped herbs are inside. Place the lid on upside down to form a concave shape which makes the steam drip back down. Boil and then simmer for four hours. Once cooked and cooled, place the entire pot in the fridge overnight. The next day, take the pot out and quickly lift the film of oil formed on the top before it melts and store it immediately. Essential oils can be used through direct inhalation, aerial diffusion, or massages, baths, and compresses.


4. Salve/balm

Begin with an infused oil. You can can add some essential oil, but this is optional. Place the oil and an ounce of beeswax or carnauba wax (vegan) over a double boiler and warm gently. To test the consistency of the finished product, place a spoon in the freezer before making the salve. When the wax melts, pour a little salve on the cold spoon and place it back into the freezer. Adjust by adding more or less wax and oil. Like essential oils, you can use balms in massages or compresses. Some common oils/salves include Oleum Magicum, Oleum Angelorum, and Witches Ointment


5. Tincture

Submerge plant material in an alcohol or alcohol/water mix for a minimum of six weeks. You can use high quality vodka, brandy, or like the Green Dragon tincture (with decarboxylated marijuana), a pure grain alcohol. Tinctures are taken in small amounts under the tongue and can be used in various recipes.

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