Using Card Decks to Study Herbal Medicine

I bought my first oracle/tarot deck when I was 12 years old. This coincided with when I planted my first backyard herb garden. I wrote my own tarot card book in my 20’s. Did the entire Major Arcana and some of the Minor Arcana as photographs for an exhibition in college. Doing readings for myself or others was never that appealing. Instead I was attracted to the imagery and symbolism as an artist. My studies in anthropology and art history also led to an exploration of our cross cultural collective unconscious. I frequently moved in my 30’s and 40’s. That book and deck disappeared.

A local bookstore has an incredible selection of decks. I was entranced by all the interesting artwork and new interpretations. I noticed one that featured medicinal herbs. Without much thought, I spontaneously purchased it. As I went through the cards and read the guide book, interesting possibilities came to mind. Were there other plant based decks out there? The herbalist and botanical artist in me had to know. I started researching on-line and found over a dozen botanically influenced decks. I purchased the ones that seemed the most interesting and useful to me. Oracle decks are pretty trendy right now. A popular way to get your artwork out there. You can publish multiple decks with a different theme without having to do much research or acquire any lived experience with the decks or their content.

There are many ways an herbalist can use tarot or oracle decks a a study tool for understanding medicinal plants at a deeper level. Here are some ideas that I came up with.

  1. To study the magical, historical, spiritual, and symbolic uses of the plants by using information in the included guidebooks.

2) As encouragement and support for observing and drawing the physical form of an herb.

3) To investigate the doctrine of signatures as a learning and prescribing tool

4) To learn about non Western herbal traditions and the use of flower essences.

5) As a path to explore plant spirt medicine or as an aid in a plant journey/dieta.

6) As a way to investigate the meaning of dreams, archetypes or knowledge from the collective unconscious.

7) As a way to support meditation or your own artistic expression.

8) As a way to get insight about a situation or for another as part of a treatment protocol. When a client is stuck and not showing change in health, the cards may guide you to a better choice in regards to an herb and how to take it.

9) As attractive “flashcards” for your studies

10) As a game or activity with young children when trying to teach them about the uses or how to ID plants.

Oracle Deck Reviews

The Druid Plant Oracle by Phillip and Stephanie Carr-Gomm ,Will Worthington (artist). 36 cards. No suits or Arcanas (not traditional Tarot structure). Reversals. Guidebook included. Most of the cards are medicinal plants. There is a brief plant description to supplement the gorgeous, detailed and botanically accurate artwork. Magical/spiritual uses of the plant are included, based in contemporary use or folklore/mythology. There is very little information on how these plants were used medicinally in the past or currently. The plants featured are common to Europe (most native), specifically the British Isles. Plants found growing wildly in meadows, hedges and woods. World view is modern Druidic/pagan. This deck is part of a series done by the illustrator and writer.

Soulflower Plant Spirit Oracle by Lisa Estabrook. 44 cards. No suits or Arcanas (not traditional tarot structure). No reversals. Guidebook included. About half the cards are medicinal plants, many are flower essences. Most are common cultivars found in backyard gardens. The dreamy artwork is loosely realistic, not ideal for plant identification. There are no plant descriptions or information about medicinal use. World view is New Age with lots of suggested affirmations and positive word prompts. The guidebook reads like a flower essence manual. The author has spent time doing “plant journeys” to inform her knowledge.

Seed and Sickle Oracle Deck by Fez Inkwright. 54 botanical cards plus 2 more cards, Seed (potential growth) and Sickle (harvest/fruition). Cards are further categorized into 4 seasons. Reversals are optional. A wide variety of plants that are food, medicine, trees, flowers. Some are toxic and would only be used “energetically”. Many are also flower essences. Most are commonly found in the US. and Europe. Two guidebooks included that allow you to read the included cards in different ways in relation to 1)Dawn (solar) is for expansive energy where there are external opportunities to be related to your question. 2) Dusk (lunar) for contractive, internal energy where there are more personal things related to your question. Each booklet ends with several interesting spread ideas further related to cycles and seasons. I bought this deck for the artwork. The color palette, composition, graphic stylization, and interesting symbols. The cards remind of woodblock prints. You won’t see information to help you with plant identification or about their medicinal uses. There is a bit of global folklore. But mostly lots of helpful guidance and support to encourage reflection in regards to your inquiry. Worldview-is neutral and inclusive of all spiritual outlooks. The creator has done other decks and books about plants.

Hedgewitch Botanical Oracle by Siolo Thompson. 40 cards. No suits or Arcanas (not traditional Tarot structure). No reversals. Guidebook included. Botanically accurate. Possibly enough detail to use in the field to identify plants. Lisa does illustrate a limited number of important scientific features/details for some plants along with binomial and other common names. A very brief plant description is included. The medicinal uses (when included) are very basic . Some of the plants could only be used as food, a couple are toxic. You would find the chosen plants common to the recovering woods of the Eastern US. A few might be in your garden. Most of the information in her descriptions relates to folklore and culinary use. There are some nice recipes included throughout the guidebook. I feel like this project came from researching a little on a lot of things and very little actual lived experience with the plants or their varied uses. Worldview-New Age/American Wiccan, truly meant to be used as an oracle/for personal insight. The author has done other decks

The Herbcrafter’s Tarot by Latisha Guthrie, Joanna Powell Colbert (artist). 77 cards. This deck is full of traditional tarot card symbols, archetypes, and structure. All the court cards/Major Arcana are “female” representing life stage archetypes. The suits/Minor Arcana are based in the 4 elements of earth, water, air and fire. No reversals. Information contained in the included guidebook lists-binomial name, affirmations/word prompts, a detailed description of the symbolism in each card and fun ways to use the plants in real life. Scientific details or medicinal use is so basic as to not be very useful to the knowledgeable. It is more or less trivia. The featured herbs are common medicinal plants found easily in different US ecosystems. The backgrounds are copied from photos taken in the unique growing enviroments of the chosen plants. The artwork is lovely, dense with symbolism and mystery. There is definitely a sense of season, place, time, and mood in these images. World view is Curanderismo (traditional medicine/culture of Mexico, South America, and the Southwestern US) and contemporary Druid. This deck is primarily lots of well meaning advice about emotional self care. This is by far my favorite deck ever, for lots of reasons.

Herbal Tarot by Michael Tierra, Candis Cantin (artist). 77 cards. The deck can be purchased with the guidebook or not. Honestly one could not buy the deck at all. Very traditional interpretation of the tarot. A close copy of the well known Rider Waite deck down to the artistic style, compositions, and symbolism. The artwork is not particularly inspiring. This guidebook is probably the most useful for herbalists compared to all the others discussed. Includes information on the four elements, planets, constellations, binomial names, a nice herbal medicine glossary, and lots of spreads to choose from. Each herb card has good and detailed information concerning the spiritual properties, medicinal properties, dosage, and preparations of a wide selection of Western, Ayurvedic and Chinese herbs. Also included are sections for key words, affirmations and herbal allies. There is an extensive description of the imagery and symbols found in the artwork of each card. This deck and book pair well with Michael Tierra’s book The Way Herbs. Worldview-non Western and new age.

Decks not featured/purchased- The Herbal Astrology Oracle, Green Witch Oracle Cards, The Witches Apothecary, Mushroom Spirit Oracle, Midnight Magic Mushroom Tarot Deck, The Magikal Botanical Oracle, Oracle of Roses, Flowers Oracle, 50 Plants That Heal: Discover Medicinal Plants That Heal Card Deck, Herbs and Medicinal Plants: The Academy of Natural Sciences and Knowledge Cards, The Illustrated Herbiary Oracle Cards, The Herbal Healing Deck, Celtic Tree Oracle, Voice of Trees Deck, Tree Spirit Tarot, The Tree Angel Oracle Deck, Oracle of the Trees, The Wisdom of Trees Oracle, Roots :A Ogham Book and Oracle Deck Set, Houseplant Tarot, There are also two pot/cannabis decks. Two of the decks in this list are not oracle/tarot but rather serve like study flashcards or “notes”.

Most decks have a guidebook with all kinds of information which may or may not prove useful to you. It depends on how you want to use the cards and what you already know. I find some “worldviews” a turnoff. Instead I let the artwork or symbols (if included) speak to me. instead of checking in with the book. Do I get a sense of the “personality” of the plant from how it was depicted? What meaning, connection, or inspiration comes as I view the cards? I went through each individual deck pulling out my favorite cards. Next I tried to make sure that I had no doubles and that all individual herbs were included. In a sense I made a master deck from all the ones purchased. Obviously I can’t shuffle it as one unit. So I tend to use it in parts based on my mood or needs at the time. One could read through all the guidebooks when pondering a particular card to get multiple takes on what it might be trying to inform you about.

Published by blackbirdsbackyard

My backyard botanical pharmacy is located in Boulder Colorado. I began studying herbal medicinewhen I was 12 years old. In college I studied subjects like anthropology, microbiology, anatomy and physiology, After graduation I decided to go to midwifery school. I attended births and had a small practice until I retired early in order to be a mother full time. I have always had an herb garden, gathered plants and made my own healing formulas with plants. Over the last 30 years there have been many teachers and I have attended dozens of workshops. I am one of those people who is always reading, studying and learning. In 2019 I was called to practice as an herbalist professionally, using "plant spirit medicine" and bio-energetic ( 5 element)healing techniques. I feel that there is a big need in the community for my skills and talents. I hope to inspire others to start their own backyard pharmacies as a solution to species extinction and the healthcare crisis in America. Healing has also become a spiritual practice and way for me to feel balanced and connected with nature. I consult with clients in person, teach classes (adults and kids), give tours of my garden and offer apprenticeships. Health, joy, meaning, and support are everyone's birthright.

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