Review by Helen Morrison
The Herbal Tarot was one of my first tarot decks. I
saw the Herbal Tarot as a way to learn two things at
once; the power of herbs and the wisdom of the tarot.
Every time I used this deck I would be exploring both
tarot and herbs.
It’s inspired by
Rider-Waite, but too different to be another clone. The
non-traditional interpretation of some of the minor arcana can be
confusing; it’s necessary to realize the deck creator takes
a non-traditional approach to the progression through
the suits. I used this deck when I was still just a
beginner myself. It was challenging at times. It was not my
very first deck. I could not recommend this deck as a
very first deck. It’s a fine choice for anyone who is
interested in herbs, or who finds the non-traditional views
appealing, or who would like to branch out a bit (but not too
far) from the standard Rider deck.
The sturdy cards are typical tarot size, about
2.5” x 4.75”. The Magician card appears on one side of
the box. (My box did not hold up well, the top and
bottom flaps vanished after a couple of years.)
of the cards features a lovely oval leafy pattern in
mostly green shades. Touches of blue flowers and bright
red ladybugs liven it up, and a white border frames
the card. It appears the same both right side up and
Each card is labeled at the bottom. Trumps
and court cards are labeled in capital letters on a
grey background, pip cards are labeled in upper and
lower case on a white background. All cards have a white
border. The common name of the herb that is used on the
card appears in script at the top of the card. When the
background is dark, the script is light, when the background
is a light color, the script is black.
The cards are drawn in soft tones, with
a watery quality. An herb is predominantly featured
on every card. On some cards, the herb is nearly the
whole image. For example, the Medicine Wheel (X)
features an elegant slippery elm tree surrounded by a
circle of small grey boulders, a rather minimalist image
for a major arcana card.
Pip cards are fully
illustrated, a few have more complex illustrations than some of
the trumps. On the Four of Wands, the four wands are
clumped together at the left side of the frame. A large,
airy stem of fennel dominates the scene, and two winged
women, maybe fairies, flutter about. The overwhelming
feeling is relaxation, matching the deck designers vision
for this card; “Agreement, relief”.
According to the
LWB, the herbs were selected for the cards based on
“astrological correspondences of the cards, symbolic aspects of
traditional herbal uses, and sometimes an herb’s folklore or
Each suit is associated with a body
system. Swords correspond to air and emotions, so all the
herbs used in the suit of swords are herbs that affect
the respiratory or nervous systems. Wands correspond
to fire, energy and blood, herbs used in the suit of
wands affect the heart and circulatory system. Cups are
water, the herbs on cup cards affect the urinary and
reproductive system, including aphrodisiacs. Pentacles
represent earth, pentacle herbs affect the digestive
One odd thing about this deck is the creators
interpretation of the progression through the suits in the minor
arcana. Traditionally, the ace is the root or beginning.
Ten is completion, the end of the cycle. According to
the LWB, in this deck, ten is the lowest point
(hitting rock bottom, so to speak), and the beginning. Aces
are the cards of enlightened fulfillment.
of herb on some cards can seem a little weird, but
this non-traditional view of the suit cards explains
things. For example, the Ten of Cups is represented by
marijuana. The traditional Rider interpretation of this card
is usually something like “perfect state of
contentment”, which makes the association with marijuana seem a
bit baffling at first glance. The “contentment” one
may (or may not) get from smoking marijuana is just a
temporary drug induced high, and doesn’t qualify as “perfect
state” of anything.
But in the Herbal deck the assigned
divinatory interpretation is “pie in the sky dreams,
illusions”. The description of the medicinal properties of
marijuana in the LWB says it “lowers inhibitions and allows
for free expression of sexual instincts”. In other
words, it’s classified as an aphrodisiac. Herbs used on
cup cards include aphrodisiacs, so marijuana fits that
requirement. Smoking marijuana makes people a little bit
stoned, and that state of mind fits the cards divinatory
meaning in this deck.
So it all fits nicely within the
system. It’s necessary to read and refer to the LWB until
you become familiar with how this deck works.
trumps stick closer to the traditional archetypical
divinatory interpretations, even when the name is changed.
Trump X for example, is the Wheel of Fortune in the
Rider deck and the Medicine Wheel in the Herbal Deck,
but the LWB says the interpretation of Medicine Wheel
is “Wheel of Fortune”. The Hierophant was renamed
High Priest, but his meaning stayed the same. Likewise,
the divinatory meaning for XII Suspended Person sticks
close to the typical Rider meaning, even though gender
was stripped from the name and even the image on the
card is somewhat androgynous. Is it a boy or a girl?
After years of pondering I still cannot decide.
Trump XV, where the Devil is substituted for Pan, much
of the negativity traditionally associated with this
card is gone. Instead, the divinatory meaning is
lighter, almost frivolous.
I was a little disappointed when I
opened the LWB. I was interested in the symbolic powers
of herbs, but the LWB discusses these only for the
major arcana. The medicinal properties of the herbs are
included for all the cards. The psychic powers of the herbs
are implied by their correspondence to the cards of
the tarot. However, it is still essential reading.
The LWB describes the
creator’s perception of progression through a suit, the
correspondences of herbs to suits, information, including the
scientific name, of the herbs that appear on the cards, the
medicinal properties of the herbs, the divinatory meanings
of the cards in both upright and reversed positions,
an introduction to tarot in general, a section on how
to use the herbs in conjunction with the tarot, and a
classic 10 card layout. That’s a lot of stuff packed into
The scientific name is essential
information for anyone interested in obtaining and using an
herb. Many plants may share the same common name, and
some plants have many common names. “Maywort” could be
Sweet Woodruff, an edible herb sometimes used to flavor
wine or bakery. Or it could be May Apple, which is
poisonous. But each plant has one and only one unique
scientific name, in Latin. Using the scientific name
eliminates any potentially dangerous confusion over which
“Maywort” we are talking about.
The LWB starts out with an
introduction to tarot in general. The next section, called
“Herbs and the Tarot”, discusses the holistic use of
herbs and how the tarot is integrated into the herbal
It also includes suggestions on how to use the herbal
associations beyond tarot, for example, burning or burying the
herb associated with a problematic card.
on Major Arcana starts out with a brief introductory
paragraph, then lists each trump 0 to XXI with a description.
The associated herb and both common and scientific
names are listed, the herbs medicinal properties and
symbolic uses are described, and the divinatory and
reversed meaning of the card are given.
The section on
Minor Arcana begins with a brief paragraph about the
significance of the suit of swords. It’s followed by a list of
sword cards, starting with King of Swords. The
description for each card includes the associated herb, common
and scientific names, medicinal properties and the
divinatory and reversed meaning of the card.
The second suit
covered is the suit of wands. I assume the deck creator
had a special affinity for this suit, because the
introduction is over a page long. Here is where the unique
progression through the suit is finally explained, using wand
cards as examples. The suit of cups comes next, with a
single sentence introduction. The suit of pentacles is
covered last, and includes a two paragraph discussion of
wealth and spirituality.
The LWB closes with a diagram
and explanation of a 10 card spread.
I enjoyed this deck and used it often. As my skills and
knowledge grew and my tarot card library expanded, the
Herbal Tarot gradually slid to one side. But, unlike
dozens of other decks that quickly landed on the
hard-to-reach (and therefore, much less used) shelf, this one
always stayed in an easily-reached place and never
slipped completely out of use.
A warning - if a seeker is suffering from a physical
malady, encourage them to seek appropriate medical advice.
Do not attempt to prescribe an herbal remedy from
this tarot, even if the seeker requests it. Herbs can
be deadly, such as belladonna, or illegal, like
marijuana. Only licensed practitioners can legally prescribe
herbal or chemical medications. Offering medical advice
based on a tarot card reading is foolish at best, and
could land you in seriously hot water. Could you deal
with the guilt if someone became gravely ill because
they took an herb prescribed by your tarot reading
instead of getting medical help? I know I could not.
Helen is a professional writer and bellydancer.
She received her first tarot deck in 1986. She is
currently collaborating with a local artist on a new tarot