Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs was my first pagan/witchcraft book. I picked it up from a Barnes & Noble in Skokie, IL along with Cunningham’s Living Wicca and Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitoner. Those two books introduced me to concepts of spells, witchcraft, magick and paganism, but I wasn’t drawn to Wicca.
Having been raised Baptist and left that religion I wasn’t interested in trading the worship of one deity for another. Even today I view my relationship with Hestia as one of the a working partnership rather than one of petitioner and goddess. Those two books sit on the shelf along with many others that I’ve learned from and then moved on beyond.
The Encyclopedia, however, has spent very little time on the shelf. It has been my go to for herbal knowledge for all these years. While it’s far from perfect (the gendering of plants is one problem) it provides a wide range of plants and information.
Yes, I have the internet, and could probably retire my copy of the book (especially since all of the information has long ago been posted on various Angelfire and Geocities websites). But I find myself reaching for it first every time. Mostly it is because opening the book to the information I need is faster than typing the herb name into a web browser. Only after consulting the book will I then search online for additional information.
The book doesn’t list every plant. There are plenty I work with that don’t appear in its pages (lots of native plants from the Americas, for instance). Still, I think the breadth of information and the way it is presented is the reason it pops up time and time again on many hedge- and green witches’ list of must-have-books.