Book Review of ‘A Witch’s Guide to Wildcraft: Using Common Plants to Create Uncommon Magick’ by J.D. Walker

Review by Martha Kirby Capo Blog | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook

About the Author

As one of nine children whose family gardened to supplement their food budget, J.D. Walker has been wildcrafting plants since she was a child. She studied to be a Master Gardener for over five years, and helped set up her state’s Master Gardener Association. Eventually, she started her own landscaping business and wrote a garden column that she continued for almost 30 years. As a child she discovered the occult section in her local library and became an avid reader in the topic with the support of her mother and grandmother. A self-dedicated solitary Pagan, she has found that her gardening interests and her spiritual practices have blended easily together.

About A Witch’s Guide to Wildcraft by J.D. Walker

“The goal of the wildcrafting witch,” writes J.D. Walker in the early pages of this terrifically practical book, “is to get in touch with the universe by collecting his or her own herbs. You don’t need a lush garden. You don’t need to live next to a public garden. You can find herbs for any purpose just outside your door.”

The book is arranged in two sections, the first of which is Wildcrafting wherein Walker presents ground rules, planetary rulership, and tips and techniques for preparing, harvesting, and processing the plants and herbs that have been gathered. Part Two is a rich compendium of 32 plants common to America, replete with illustrations of each plant. Each entry also contains the plant’s lore, history, uses, and crafting projects unique to each plant. Also included is a USDA Plant Hardiness Map showing the average extreme minimum temperatures 1976-2005.

I’ll tell you right off the bat that I’m a “brown thumb” witch, so I was eager to have the opportunity to discover what A Witch’s Guide to Wildcraft could offer me, a person who has managed to kill mint (for readers who might not know, mint is one of the hardiest plants out there). I quickly discovered that Walker has written a book that embraces both the beginner and the advanced herbalist, and she does so with a gentle wry wit and down-to-earth prose.

Her tone is conversational, friendly, and never condescending to readers who are new to herbalism. I particularly enjoyed Chapter 3: Heavenly Bodies and Their Impact on Plants, in which she guides the reader through the nuances of coordinating herbs and elemental influences. She also includes a section on harvesting in accordance with the moon and planetary correspondences. Throughout the book she quotes ancients such as Agrippa, Dioscorides, Pliny the Elder and others. The works of modern scholars such as McHoy and Taylor are also mentioned throughout the book.

This is a wildcrafting resource you’ll find yourself returning to time and again. After the Table of Contents is a Crafting List, which readers will find very helpful in getting right to the spell or tool they’d like to create. Walker offers a wide range of crafts: wands, inks, incenses, talismans, and (my favorite) a cherry jam recipe written by Nostradamus, who “advocated for the use of cherries to improve psychic visions” (p. 95).

Of Particular Note…

There are a couple of charts in Chapter 3 that I found particularly helpful: the Daytime and Nighttime Hours Charts. Walker goes into some detail about gathering plants on the appropriate day and at the appropriate hour, using the Chaldean system of ordering the hours and the days. I found she presented this fairly structured and somewhat complex (to me; I am by no means a horticulturist) system in a way that I could easily grasp.

Walker has a real knack for describing and explaining wildcrafting in a way that accommodates a wide audience. Those who are just starting to explore the art (and science!) of herbalism won’t be overwhelmed, while those who are seasoned wildcrafters will be nodding their heads in recognition when she delves into more technical taxonomies.

An underlying theme of mindfulness is threaded throughout the pages of this book, which I found very compelling. I particularly enjoyed Part Two, and not only because it is so useful as a field guide. Walker provides a brief history of each plant, and it’s clear that all of her information has been extensively and thoroughly researched. The entire book is not only filled with factual information, it’s brimming with wisdom delivered with her dry humor. Under the entry for Ivy (Hedera) she writes:

 

Some sources say you can prevent intoxication by either drinking an infusion of ivy or carrying the plant on your person, but don’t drink a tea of ivy – it is mildly toxic. I rather doubt carrying ivy will do you much better than carrying amethyst when it comes to drinking. At best, it would be a tangible reminder not to over-imbibe. A better strategy is not to over-imbibe. (p. 159)

Any Concerns?

There are a few spelling errors in the text, not enough to be distracting but enough that I did notice. Aside from these occasional and very minor burbles, readers should find themselves quickly and happily beguiled by A Witch’s Guide to Wildcraft. JD Walker clearly loves wildcrafting and has a deep and wide knowledge of her subject, which she teaches using easily understood language enlivened by her deft wit. Near the end of her book, she writes:

As I have said repeatedly throughout this book, the intention of getting you involved with wildcrafting is to help you become more connected to the universe. You are not master of the universe. You are a part of the universe. Understanding your place in the universe can help you improve your situation here and bring you greater peace. (p. 252)

Seasoned and novice herbalists alike will want to add A Witch’s Guide to Wildcraft: Using Common Plants to Create Uncommon Magick to their libraries—and be sure to keep it where you can easily reach for it, because it is the perfect companion to take with you on your wildcrafting adventures.

A Witch’s Guide to Wildcraft: Using Common Plants to Create Uncommon Magick can be purchased here.

About Martha Kirby Capo is a Hekatean Witch, currently working most closely with the epithets Medusa (Guardian), Enodia (Guide), and Rixipyle (She who breaks down the Gates).  She is an Intuitive and Holistic Tarot reader and is the editor of Patheos Pagan’s shared blog The Agora, where she writes as The Corner Crone. She also serves as a Witch Mentor through 3 Pagans and a Cat. Martha’s Moments for Meditation can be heard on KPPR Pure Pagan Radio and on her YouTube channel. She has been extensively anthologized through Skinner House books, and is currently under contract with Llewellyn Publishing.

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