I'm a believer in biodiversity in the garden, and I love getting to know new plants. Over the years I've grown and learned about dozens of herbs, and I'll probably spend the rest of my life making new plant friends.
But starting a witch's garden can be daunting, so I always recommend choosing a few plants you really want to grow first. If you start with too many plants at once, you might struggle to care for their many needs. And the truth is, I often return to the same plants over and over for spells and spiritual work. So if you are just beginning, or have limited space, take heart: A handful of plants can meet all of a witch's magical needs, and they don't have to be rare or exotic to be effective. If I had to choose just four plants to grow for magical purposes--one for each element, perhaps--these are the ones I would choose. Each of them has multiple magical uses, and also has ornamental, culinary, medicinal, and / or cosmetic value.
Lavender (Lavandula spp.) is associated with the element of air. Famous for her ability to aid in relaxation, lavender can bring peace and harmony to fraught environments. This comforting clarity makes her valuable in purification and healing magic. Combined with mugwort in a dream pillow, she can balance mugwort's intensity and is therefore a good ally for the sensitive or novice witch. Her gentleness is useful in love spells where a harmonious relationship is the goal. And her sweetness makes her a wonderful addition to any kind of blessing magic. She is especially useful in magic for children. Like mugwort, lavender is drought tolerant and disease and pest resistant. She does, however, need to be brought indoors during winter in colder climates (though she overwinters well in my garden in Oregon's Willamette Valley).
Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) is associated with the element of earth. Mugwort is, to me, the quintessential witchy herb. I primarily work with mugwort's affinity for the otherworld; she opens the third eye and assists in spirit journeys, dreaming, and divination. She is protective in all kinds of journeys, spiritual and physical, and also protects the home. She grows like a weed, and is drought tolerant and disease and pest resistant. She gives massive quantities of herb each year which can be used for all sorts of magical projects, from herbal wands, to wreaths, to dream pillows and beyond.
Rose (Rosa spp.) is associated with the element of water. Rose is celebrated for her affinity for love magic, but that is only one facet of this plant's magical qualities. The flowers and leaves are also valuable in magic to heal the heart and soothe the spirit. Rosehips are strong, protective, passionate, and invigorating, valuable in love magic but also in many other kinds of spells. They lend themselves especially well to use in talismans. The stems and thorns are fiercely protective when used on their own, and when added to magical blends they can aid the practitioner in developing good boundaries and self-protective abilities. Rose also makes a beautiful adornment for the altar or offering to gods and spirits. Hybrid roses are a little more challening to grow than herbs like mugwort and rosemary, but some old-fashioned varieties like Rosa rugosa are hardy and vigorous--and all varieties bring beauty to the garden.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus spp.) is associated with the element of fire. She is a most versatile magical herb. I primarily use rosemary for purifying and exorcising magic, and for blessing and consecration. But rosemary is also healing, protective, and capable of aiding memory and promoting mental clarity, to name a few uses. The smoke produced by burning or smoldering rosemary smells sweet and pleasant. Her fragrance infuses into oil readily, and the resulting concoction is warming and comforting. An infusion of rosemary is the perfect purification water for the ritual circle or ritual bath. Disease resistant and drought tolerant, she is easy to grow in moderate climates. Like lavender, she should be brought indoors to survive harsh winters.
If you're just starting out on the path of magical herbalism, these are four wonderful plants to get to know--and all are easy to purchase from herbal suppliers, and are fairly easy to grow if you choose the right variety for your climate.
I'd love to hear what herbs you can't do without in your witch's garden. Please share in the comments!