Category Archives: Pagan articles

How to Tell the Difference Between Poison Hemlock and Queen Anne’s Lace By: Gabe Garms

(All pictures of these two plants are listed properly on the main webpage. Please have a look at them because it’s very important to get this straight, if you’re planning on using them in your witch-crafting or herbal healing.                       

Lady Silver Sage)

Poison hemlockPoison Hemlock (conium maculatum) (Conium maculatum) is one of the deadliest plants in North America and can be fatal if just a small amount is ingested. It has been in flower here in Washington for the last month or so and can be found across much of the United States. It grows (often in dense patches) along roads, trails and the edges of fields and streams. I actually have it growing in my back yard, right along side one of it’s most common look-a-likes, Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota).

Queen Anne’s laceQueen Anne's Lace (Daucus Carota) is a wild edible (the root) and given that it typically does grow in the same conditions as poison hemlock, being able to tell the difference could save your life. Plus, you’ll want to know if you have it growing on your property because it’s also toxic to pets and livestock. So let’s walk through how to identify both so that you can confidently identify them in the future.

Poison hemlock Poison Hemlock(Conium maculatum)

vs. Queen Anne’s laceQueen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota):

1. Both are in the Apiaceae family and have hollow stems, but poison hemlock’s stem is hairless and has purple blotches. Even a very young poison hemlock will display the purple blotching. On the other hand, the stem of Queen Anne’s lace doesn’t have purple blotches and is hairy. See the photos below for a comparison.

Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus Carota)
QUEEN ANNE’S LACE (DAUCUS CAROTA)LEaves of Queen Anne's Lace - Hairy

Poison Hemlock (conium maculatum)
POISON HEMLOCK (CONIUM  Leaves of Poison Hemlock - Not hairy

2. The flowers of both species are white and bloom in an umbrella shape pattern (called an umbel). Plants in the Apiaceae family have flowers that appear in compound umbels, which means that all of the little umbrellas branch out from one main, central umbrella – if that makes sense. If it doesn’t, don’t worry about it. Just know that the flowers of Queen Anne’s lace have a single purplish/red flower in the center of the umbel the vast majority of the time (see picture below left). Legend has it that Queen Anne pricked her finger while sewing the lace and a droplet of blood fell to the center of the flowers. Also the umbrella shape of Queen Anne’s lace is flat-topped, while the poison hemlock umbel is more rounded. Notice the difference below.

Queen Anne’s Lace

Poison Hemlock

3. The leaves are probably the most difficult feature to distinguish between the two. While they are both fern-like in appearance, the leaves of Queen Anne’s lace, similar to the stems, will also have hairs on their undersides. See in picture below to the right.

LEaves of Queen Anne’s Lace – Hairy

Leaves of Poison Hemlock – Not hairy

4. A final distinguishing feature is that Queen Anne’s lace has

Happy Friday the 13th

An Introduction to Wildcrafting by Patti Wigington

Woman foraging in the woods

Forests are a great place to look for wild herbs to harvest – as long as you have permission!.

Katherine Mitchell / Moment / Getty Images Plus

In addition to growing your own magical herbs in your garden, in many areas you can harvest herbs from their natural environment—in the wild. This is known as wildcrafting, and is becoming a popular pastime. If you’re one of the many Pagans or Wiccans who enjoys working with herbs, you may want to look into wildcrafting. However, much like any other natural resource, herbs must be harvested responsibly—otherwise, a once-plentiful plant can quickly end up on the endangered list! An ethical wildcrafter should never cause damage, nor should they deplete a resource. Here’s how to be a responsible wildcrafter.

Did You Know?

  • Wildcrafting is the age-old practice of gathering herbs and plants from wild, natural growth locations.
  • Make sure you have permission to pick, and that you follow standard outdoor safety protocols.
  • When you harvest, be sure to only take what you can use in the near future; this will allow for ample return growth for your next visit.

Get Permission

First, be sure you have permission to wildcraft in the area you’re visiting. Some public lands require you to have a permit before you may harvest any plants. If you’re on private property, get permission from the landowner. Also, be sure you check your local Department of Agriculture extension to see if there are plants that are on the endangered list in your area. That wild ginger may seem inviting, but if it’s being depleted in your region, you need to pass on it.

Know What You’re Seeing

Have a guidebook handy, with color photos of local plants. What grows in Virginia is not the same as what grows in Wyoming, and a plant common in New Hampshire may be non-existent in Florida. Use a field guide to local plants to help you properly identify items you may wish to wildcraft.

Where to Pick

When you’re looking for herbs to harvest, don’t collect from the first patch you see. Typically, that first patch is the same one that everyone else sees when they’re walking down a trail or driving by. Instead, go further afield, moving off-trail, if possible to do so safely, to look for another patch. This way, you can harvest from a location that won’t be noticeably damaged the next time someone walks by. In some public parks, you may only harvest at a certain distance away from trails, so be sure you check with your local agency.

Stay Safe

Man foraging in the fall
Be sure you know where you are at all times.  Matilda Delves / Moment / Getty

Pay attention to the environment around you. Many a beginning wildcrafter has gotten lost in the woods because they weren’t paying attention to their surroundings. Likewise, watch for hazards like loose rocks, narrow trails along ridges, or low-hanging tree limbs. Remember that the further away from civilization you get, the further you are from help if you need it.

If possible, wildcraft with a friend, or at the very least, carry a cell phone and/or handheld GPS with you.

What to Gather

Try to harvest plants that are not damaged easily before you go for the more fragile ones. Some plants, like dandelion, yarrow, and blackberry are just about impossible to kill simply by picking them—they’ll always grow back. Also, when you take a plant, take only what you can use in the foreseeable future. Many wildcrafters try to use a specific ratio of one in four or even one in five—that



The Magic of Frankincense by Patti Wigington

Frankincense Resin
Danita Delimont / Gallo Images / Getty Images

This resin, harvested from the family of trees, appears in the story of the birth of Jesus. The Bible tells of the three wise men, who arrived at the manger, and “opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense, and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:11)

Frankincense is mentioned several times in the Old Testament as well as in the Talmud. Jewish rabbis used consecrated frankincense in ritual, particularly in the ceremony of Ketoret, which was a sacred rite in the Temple of Jerusalem. The alternate name for frankincense is olibanum, from the Arabic al-lubān. Later introduced to Europe by Crusaders, frankincense became a staple element of many Christian ceremonies, particularly in the Catholic and Orthodox churches.

According to,

“At the time Jesus is thought to have been born, frankincense and myrrh may have been worth more than their weight in the third gift presented by the wise men: gold But despite their significance in the New Testament, the substances fell out of favor in Europe with the rise of Christianity and fall of the Roman Empire, which essentially obliterated the thriving trade routes that had developed over many centuries. In the early years of Christianity, incense was expressly forbidden because of its associations with pagan worship; later, however, some denominations, including the Catholic Church, would incorporate the burning of frankincense, myrrh and other aromatic items into specific rites.”

Back in 2008, researchers completed a study on the impact of frankincense on depression and anxiety. Pharmacologists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem said evidence indicates that the aroma of frankincense might help regulate emotions such as anxiety and depression. Research shows that lab mice exposed to frankincense were more willing to spend time in open areas, where they typically feel more vulnerable. Scientists say this indicates a drop in levels of anxiety.

Also as part of the study, when the mice were swimming in a beaker that had no way out, they “paddled longer before giving up and floating,” which scientists link to antidepressive compounds. Researcher Arieh Moussaieff said that the use of frankincense, or at least, its genus Boswellia, is documented back as far as the Talmud, in which condemned prisoners were given frankincense in a cup of wine in order to “benumb the senses” prior to execution.

Ayurvedic practitioners have used frankincense for a long time as well. They call it by its Sanskrit name, dhoop, and incorporate it into general healing and purification ceremonies.

Using Frankincense in Magic Today

Lighting Frankincense
Blanca Martin / EyeEm /Getty

In modern magical traditions, frankincense is often used as a purifier – burn the resin to cleanse a sacred space, or use the essential oils* to anoint an area that needs to be purified. Because it is believed that the vibrational energies of frankincense are particularly powerful, many people mix frankincense with other herbs to give them a magical boost.

Many people find that it makes a perfect incense to use during meditation, energy work, or chakra exercises such as opening the third eye. In some belief systems, frankincense is associated with good fortune in business–carry a few bits of resin in your pocket when you go to a business meeting or interview.

Kat Morgenstern of Sacred Earth says,

“Since ancient times the clean, fresh, balsamic fragrance of Frankincense has been utilized to as perfume–the very word perfume derives from the Latin ‘par fumer’–through the (incense) smoke, a direct reference as to the origin of the practise of perfuming. Clothes were fumigated, not only to give them a pleasant smell, but also to cleanse them. Perfuming is a cleansing practice. In Dhofar not only clothes were perfumed, but other articles such as water jugs were also cleansed with smoke to kill