In order to be an effective herbalist, you have to of course, know your medicines inside and out- you must know them holistically. You have to also know how to properly assess the individual asking you for help, know how to ask them the right questions and assess them holistically to determine the root cause of the issue they are having.
But from there, you have to hand them an herbal preparation that is going to work on the wholeness of their being, one that will be potent and concentrated not only biochemically, but also energetically and spiritually.
While we see many different traditional models for potentizing medicine- such as chanting mantras or succusing remedies as in homeopathy, there is a highly unique and powerful model used in western esoteric traditions that uses astrology.
According to the tradition of Alchemy and Astrology, plants each have their own unique embodiment of the planetary forces which are expressed in their habitat, morphology, tastes, actions, energetics, organ affinities etc. Once this plant-to-planet relationship was determined, it enabled them to not only understand the plant with greater depth and precision, but gave them the formula for potentizing their medicine on profound levels.
Because when a medicine is prepared astrologically, it functions astrally within the person who takes. This means that the medicine will influence the astral body, which is essentially the western equivalent to the meridians of Chinese Medicine (of which there are interestingly 12 in number, matching almost precisely the 12 signs of the western zodiac) as well as the chakras and nadis of the Vedic tradition.
The astral body can be likened to the vital force, the energetic link the unites physiology, psychology and the soul. When a plant is prepared in accordance with astrological principles- especially in conjunction with the transformational processes outlined within Alchemy- they will operate upon the wholeness of the person, because they are harvested and prepared in accordance with the wholeness of nature and the cosmos.
Astrology represents a system of time that enables you to see the specific flow of energy- or vital force- within a particular space at a particular moment in time. It a system of understanding the spirit of time.
So whereas the herbalist harvests plants, the alchemist harvests planets- or the subtle spiritual energy present within the cosmos.
When you are preparing a medicine astrologically, there are 4 primary steps in the process:
- Determine the ruling Planet for the plant you are working with
- Choose the corresponding day of the week for that Planet
- Choose the correct time of day when that Planet is strongest
- Following the lunar cycle and its relationship to the ruling Planet and/or the signs of the zodiac
We can generally divide time in 2 functional layers for our purposes as herbalists: 1) the day of the week and 2) the time of the day. The day of the week represents the general energetic quality of that day, the 7 days correlating to the 7 inner planets of astrology. The time of day is a more focused energetic quality- like a laser beam- that refines the specific energy at a particular moment. This is quite similar to the way Ayurveda divides the seasons and times of day according to the 3 doshas of vata, pitta, and kapha, or the way the Chinese divide the hours of the day based on the 5 Elements and their corresponding organ systems.
The days of the week correspond to the 7 inner Planets as follows:
Sunday- the Sun
Monday- the Moon
The planetary hours are a major pattern used in esoteric traditions, not just in Alchemy, but all manner of natural magic. There are a few different approaches to calculating planetary hours: fixed systems generally divide the 24 hours of the day in 7 equally spaced “hours” of about 3 hours and 26 minutes, the flexible systems change based on the seasons, which is my preferred model- as nature is in constant flux. (I mean 7 am in the middle of winter feels really different than 7 am in the middle of summer, right?!)
Flexible planetary hour systems calculate the moment of sunrise and sunset for your specific location, and divide the daylight into 12 “hours” and the night into 12 “hours.” (Hours is in quotes here because they are not 60 minute hours. Because the days are longer in the summer, a planetary “hour” in the summer will be longer than 60 minutes.) You calculate how many minutes of daylight there are and divide that by 12 to get the length of your day “hour” and do the same for night. In general, the moment of sunrise is always associated with the Planet that rules that particular day of the week. They then progress in a particular order, based on Qabalistic Tree of Life: Saturn-Jupiter-Mars-Sun-Venus-Mercury-Moon.
The main way these 2 timing patterns are worked with in the practice of Astro-Herbalism and Alchemy, is to select the day and planetary hour of the Planet that governs the plant you are working with to properly time your harvesting and your medicine making.
Lastly, you can look to the Moon for guidance as well. As the closest Planet to the Earth, the Moon moves quite quickly through the 12 signs of the zodiac, changing signs every 2-3 days and making a full cycle in about 28 days. There are 2 primary ways you can work with the Moon. The first is to harvest and prepare medicines when the Moon is in a particular sign that governs a specific organ system the plant operates on.
So if you are working with Mugwort and want to orient it more strongly into the uterus, you could harvest it when the Moon is in Cancer, who rules the womb. If you wanted it to work more strongly on the liver, you could harvest it when the Moon is in Virgo, ruler of the liver. This helps to drive the medicine more deeply into the particular organ system you want it to orient itself around, as it will embody the archetypal force that governs that organ system.
The second way you can work with the Moon is to wait until it is making a beneficial aspect to the ruling Planet of that plant. This would basically be a conjunction, sextile (60 degrees) or trine (120 degrees). The Moon will help to channel the energy of that Planet more strongly and will enhance its presence in the medicine- especially the conjunction.
So say you are working with a plant like Cleavers, which is ruled by Venus. You could want to harvest that Cleavers on a Friday, at the Venus hour, ideally when the Moon is in the signs of Libra (kidneys), Scorpio (bladder), or Pisces (lymphatics), and making a sextile, trine or conjunction with Venus.
Now that being said, that’s the most ideal situation for harvesting a plant or preparing a medicine, but you can’t always wait for the whole universe to line up to harvest your plants!! You have to balance this all out with practicality. This is why the planetary day and hour is the most practical approach to this, but sometimes you can add the Moon work to it and it just lines up perfectly!
This is but one way that astrology can be integrated into your work with herbal medicines, specifically in regards to harvesting and herbal pharmacy, but it is but one of many ways the Astro-Herbalism synergy works. Astrology can also guide your remedy classification, understanding of the medicinal properties of plants, diagnostics and assessment of the whole person, formulation and administration.