Herbs to Support Creativity and the Flow of Awen


Humans have been working with plants for both physical and metaphysical purposes since long before recorded history. From the most ancient human remains and other archeological evidence, we know our human ancestors carried a wide variety of plant and fungi species to aid them with healing, deepen their spiritual experiences, and expand their minds. When you begin the study of herbalism, you quickly realize plants can do so much more than just offering healing–they can do all sorts of things from protecting our hearts to helping us focus. In today’s post, I wanted to share my ongoing research into developing a list of herbs to specifically support creativity (or the flow of Awen, as we druids conceptualize creativity). How do we use herbs to help us get into deeper flow states? Come up with creative ideas? Focus so we can accomplish our creative goals?

The flow state depicted artistically, with the Awen in the center. Original work by Dana O’Driscoll (me).

I initially thought exploring herbs for supporting creativity would be fairly easy and straightforward to research—surely there is a tradition out there of using herbs for creative flow, focus, and exploration. In fact, after talking to a number of herbalists in the herbal community, including some of my own mentors, it seems like this tradition isn’t really as established as I thought, at least not here in the Western world. While everyone could pinpoint certain herbs they would use for various creative endeavors when asked, it did not sound like there was a huge tradition of practice behind it. Thus, I had to do some real digging—I was surprised at how little work has been done on specific creativity-enhancing herbs. My theory about this is because we have so many cultural hang-ups surrounding creativity, we don’t always recognize that creativity is something that can be directly cultivated. Thus, in researching this list, I spoke to multiple well-known herbalists and read through a number of historical and contemporary herbal sources. As a practicing herbalist of 15+ years committed to creativity as spirituality, I also have done my own fair share of experimentation. This list is the result.

I will also note that this post is one in my longer series on creativity and the bardic arts, which are central to the druid tradition.  These posts include: taking up the path of the bard part 1, part 2, and part 3; cultivating awen in your life, bardic storytelling, bardic arts and the ancestors, creativity and mental health, creation as deepening relationship with the world, and visioning the future.

Using Plants for Creativity and Bardic Practices

Certain herbal allies can be used to support and enhance a variety of creative practices by offering clarity, focus, or expansion.  These herbs can be brought into the presence of your creation, burned as incense, or consumed through smoke, teas, etc. They can be used in various ritual ways, as humans have been doing since recorded pre-history.

Plant uses, like other things, have both metaphysical and physical aspects—this includes both their physical, mental, and spiritual effects on the body and the ways in which you take the plant (physically) or interact with the plant metaphysically. Plants contain compounds that have physiological effects on the body. But plants also have metaphysical sides—they can be teachers, and guides, and support us in our spiritual practice.  Since we’ve been exploring creativity as a spiritual practice in this book, incorporating plants and mushrooms into your creative practice can be a wonderful way of deepening and connecting.

On the physical side in terms of interaction, plants can be used through making a tea, tincture (soaking plants in alcohol, vinegar, or vegetable glycerin), smoking the plant, or cooking with the plant. Plants can also be used in a metaphysical sense, being present with the plant, through leaving a plant on your altar, smoke cleansing with the plant, spirit journeying with the plant or creating an amulet or talisman of the plant that you can wear.  A lot of how you would use the plant depends on what you want to accomplish and what limitations you have in using plants.

Two of my favorite ways of working with plants for creatively is to create an herbal sachet of several of the herbs below (such as rosemary, wood betony, and lemon balm) and then put them in my bath.  I soak in the bath, daydreaming or doing rituals to support the flow of Awen, then get out of the bath and go create.  Another wonderful way of using these herbs is to create an anointing salve (see below). You can use your intuition and experiment to see how these different plant energies will work for you.  I will also note that some plants may be contraindicated for certain medications (meaning you cannot take both the pharmaceutical and the plant) so check before ingesting any plants, and working with the plants spiritually is always a nice option.

With any natural or plant work, remember to be respectful and engage in appropriate etiquette towards the plant and plant spirit. If you are growing or wild harvesting, making offerings and asking permission, and only taking a small amount of plant, is important. If you are purchasing plant material, ensure that you are getting the plant material from an ethical source, that the material is organic, and that once you receive the plant, you offer your gratitude and thanks. The more that you can connect with the spirits of the plants and honor them as sovereign beings, the more effective the plant’s medicine and support will be for your creative practices.

When we think about what creativity-supporting plants do, they have a number of functions from a physical standpoint. One is anxiety-reducing: Let’s say that you are wanting to create but you keep getting in your own head and talking yourself out of it, and the act of creation can cause you some pain or be associated with some past trauma—but you really want to create. Or, there are broader things happening in the world that are impacting your ability to create (trauma, stress, overwhelm). These plants can help calm you and allow you to come into a happy, joyful place with your creation. Other plants help open your awareness, offer focus and clarity of thought, or connect you with the spirit realm.

List of Creativity-Enhancing and Creativity-Supporting Herbs

Wood Betony (Stachys Officinalis)

Wood Betony is also known as “hedge nettle” and has been long respected for healing and magical qualities.  Wood Betony supports the solar plexus region of the body, including supporting a healthy digestion and reducing the effects of stress and anxiety. Wood Betony also functions as an outstanding nervine to relax both the mind and body, and put you at ease. Wood Betony also is known to support memory and concentration, and thus, allow you deeper focus. Many of the mint family plants have both a calming and invigorating effect; in the case of Wood Betony, the mind and nerves are calmed and yet focused for productivity, making it the top creativity herb on this list.

When we explore the magic of Wood Betony historically, we can see why this plant is so amazing for fostering creativity.  Wood Betony was used extensively in Europe for magical spirit-connected practices, including within the context of northern European Shamanism, suggesting that this plant can help bridge the divide between matter and spirit.  Wood Betony offers both protection against the evil eye and negativity and also dispels negative energy, offering you a safe place to create.  Wood Betony can support bringing prophetic and inspiring dreams, particularly when combined with Mugwort.  Finally, the plant helps you feel grounded and rooted in the earth, which allows you to find your center and flow.   All of these point to Wood Betony as a major creative herb for general, everyday use.

From my perspective, Wood Betony is one of the most effective creativity herbs I’ve worked with both in terms of physical use (e.g. drinking a cup of Wood Betony tea or having a tincture) and also in terms of metaphysical use (using wood betony-infused oil). Thus, if you are going to work with any single herb or start somewhere, this would be my first suggestion.

Lemon Balm (Melissa Officinalis)

Lemon Balm is an outstanding choice for creative people who need to reduce anxiety, bring in calm, and overall support the nervous system while also connecting to the world of spirits.  Lemon balm gently uplifts the mood and brings joy. Lemon balm has restorative (what herbalists call a trophorestorative) effects for the entire nervous system, helping with insomnia, anxiety, stress, heart palpitations, and high blood pressure.  Lemon balm can also support digestive issues caused by stress or anxiety, such as upset stomach.  Lemon balm is best as a tea or tincture.  This plant is gentle enough to use daily and supportive to get you moving with your creativity and brightens everything in your life.

Calamus (Acorus Calamus)

Calamus from the Plant Spirit Oracle

Calamus is a plant also known as “sweet flag” that grows in a variety of damp and marshy conditions.  As was taught to me by Michigan Folk Herbalist Jim McDonald, Calamus has a beautiful, aromatic root that can be eaten fresh, dried, made into tea or tincture.  She is not only a medicine that helps the physical throat and vocal tract, but metaphysically, she can help finding one’s voice.  Thus, if you are trying to give voice to a project (through speaking, singing, writing, etc.), get your creative work out there, or speak in public and share about your work, she is an excellent ally.  For this, you can use Calamus in tea, tincture, or simply dry her and chop her up finely, and then chew on a small piece when you feel the need.

Rosemary (Salvia Rosmarinus)

Rosemary is a wonderful support to creative practices, particularly in working with the ancestors of craft. Even just smelling Rosemary can brighten your mood and increase your cognitive functioning, allowing you to focus deeply on the work you want to do and offer clarity to your path in creativity. Further, Rosemary is understood in many folk traditions as an herb for remembrance, which can allow you to connect not only to your own memory but to connect with the ancestors—of craft, of blood, of tradition—and be inspired.  Health-wise, Rosemary is a nervine and can help with nervous tension, calming the body and the mind in preparation for creation.

Mugwort (Artemesia Vulgaris)

Mugwort - the dreaming herb. This is mugwort from my Plant Spirit Oracle
Mugwort – the dreaming herb from the Plant Spirit Oracle

Mugwort is another herb that has a long history of sacred use and is another fantastic creativity herb.  Mugwort is a nervine, particularly supporting people who are shaky or feel unsteady with stress. Mugwort is also used for those who have high blood pressure (helping to lower blood pressure), for issues of digestion, including stress stomach, raising energy levels, and helping to relieve aches and pains in the body.  When we put these two basic uses together, we can see why Mugwort may help put you into a great space for creation.

I’ll also speak here to Mugwort’s longstanding magical connection with spirit work and the dreamworld.  Mugwort is another plant, like Wood Betony, that supports the connection between the worlds of matter and the worlds of spirit.  Mugwort specifically works to bridge between dreaming and waking, and thus, if you want to work with some of the dreaming for creativity material I shared earlier on this blog, Mugwort is an excellent ally. Specifically, Mugwort is well known in herbal folk medicine and magical herbalism to heighten dreams, access to the dreamtime, and lucid dreaming. Mugwort specifically helps people have more powerful dreams-both in terms of vivid dreaming but also in terms of memory (and when combined with rosemary, can be a potent dream aid). Mugwort is also very supportive in a range of other creativity-supporting applications as well, particularly if you are seeking inspiration from dreams, inner worlds, or working connect with fantastical ideas.

Cannabis (Cannabis Sativa, Cannabis Indica)

No discussion of plants for creativity would be complete without a discussion of Cannabis (Marijuana). Because Cannabis is growing in medicinal and recreational use throughout the US and the world, it goes without saying that before you use this plant, you should consider issues of legality.

Cannabis is well known as a plant that stimulates creativity and creative centers of the brain, and does so in different ways depending on the strain consumed.  Cannabis Sativa is good for supporting idea generation, getting focused and deep into the flow state, opening and being in a receptive state, and making progress on projects.  Sativa is good for active things where you are moving, focusing, and creating. Beyond that, individuals who use Cannabis Sativa describe how ideas flow to them—there are so many accounts of this, I think part of what Cannabis Sativa does is allow for you to put together different ideas that would normally not go together, and help your mind connect creatively with your subconscious. Cannabis Indica is more of an anti-anxiety and relaxation plant that allows for sacred dreaming, bringing one off the edge of anxiety to be in a good place for creation, and relaxation. Depending on your needs, this may be an herb that works well for you, or one that encourages you to rest and dream (which also may be what you need to create—resting and rejuvenation before creation).Various hybrid blends bring these two plants together for anxiety reduction and opening the mind in new and novel ways.  Because cannabis is such a personal relationship plant, if you want to use her for creativity, you may need to spend time figuring out what works for you, and the ways that you want to consume the plant (smoking, edibles, oils, salves, or more metaphysical work).

Emerging research on Cannabis supports the above; one line of research suggests that cannabis may contribute to creativity by supporting novel and divergent thinking and enhancing some aspects of creativity (see for example LaFrance, Emily M., and Carrie Cuttler. “Inspired by Mary Jane? Mechanisms underlying enhanced creativity in cannabis users.” Consciousness and Cognition 56 (2017): 68-76.).

Awen Anointing Oil

One method for fostering creativity with any of the above plants is to create an anointing oil.  This anointing oil can be rubbed on your tools as well as on your body (your head, hands, feet, or other aspects of your body involved in creation). What I like about this is that it can be part of a simple ritual you perform to begin the act of creation. You can use any of the above plants; I’ll offer one recipe here:

  • 1 part fresh or dried Rosemary
  • 1 part fresh or dried Mugwort
  • 1 part fresh or dried Wood Betony
  • 1 part fresh or dried Lemon Balm
  • Any other herbal allies you would like
  • Olive oil (organic)
  • Beeswax (optional)
  • Essential oils (optional)
Infusing herbs in oil
Infusing herbs in oil

To macerate (soak in oil) your plant matter, you have a few options.  One of my favorite options is to place the plant matter in a cast iron enamel pot and/or mason jar in the warm sun for 7 days, infusing the plant matter with the sun’s energy. These plants are often in season fresh when the sun is highest in the sky, and thus best to do during warm summer days.

You can also warm and infuse the plant matter on your stove in a double boiler. If you are selecting this second option, the oil should be hot but not boiling or simmering, so keep the stove on low.  If your plant matter boils or simmers, it will get crispy and many of the volatile oils (essential oils) which are the medicinal parts of the plants, are lost.

In terms of fresh or dried plant matter, the fresh plant matter will have water in it.  Keep the lid off of your vessel if you are using fresh plant matter (and keep the lid on if you are using dried). When you pour off your fresh plant matter, you may see what look like little water droplets at the bottom of your vessel—these are water and they can lead to your oil going rancid much faster, so you will want to not include them in your final blend.

Once you’ve selected your method, begin by loosely chopping your plant matter and place it in your vessel.  As you chop, pray to the plants and ask for their support in enhancing your creativity and connection to the Awen.  Place the vessel and macerate as described in the last paragraph.

When your oil is ready, strain it carefully either through a strainer, cheesecloth, or a single-ply paper towel to ensure no plant matter remains.  At this point, you can add a few drops of essential oil if you feel led (something skin safe like orange, more rosemary, sage, etc.).  You can also at this point add 1 ½ – 2 tablespoons beeswax per cup of oil, giving your oil some thickness so it transforms into a salve.  Melt the beeswax into the oil, and then using a spoon, let it cool to see the consistency you like.

When you are finished, pour it into tins, jars, or a bottle. Stored in a cool, dry place the salve can last up to a year and a half. I like to keep mine on my altar and use it before I sit down to create.  I rub a small amount on my third eye, hands, and temples before creating and chanting “Awen” three times.

Dana O'Driscoll

Dana O’Driscoll has been an animist druid for almost 20 years, and currently serves as Grand Archdruid in the Ancient Order of Druids in America. She is a druid-grade member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids and is the OBOD’s 2018 Mount Haemus Scholar. She is the author of Sacred Actions: Living the Wheel of the Year through Earth-Centered Spiritual Practice (REDFeather, 2021), the Sacred Actions Journal (REDFeather, 2022), and Land Healing: Physical, Metaphysical, and Ritual Approaches for Healing the Earth (REDFeather, 2024). She is also the author/illustrator of the Tarot of Trees, Plant Spirit Oracle, and Treelore Oracle. Dana is an herbalist, certified permaculture designer, and permaculture teacher who teaches about reconnection, regeneration, and land healing through herbalism, wild food foraging, and sustainable living. Dana lives at a 5-acre homestead in rural western Pennsylvania with her partner and a host of feathered and furred friends. She writes at the Druids Garden blog and is on Instagram as @druidsgardenart. She also regularly writes for Plant Healer Quarterly and Spirituality and Health magazine.

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  1. Ah, Dana.. 🙂 Your blogs always excite me! “Herbs to support creativity and the flow of Awen”.. Yes!

    As is also true for more friends than I would have ever expected, I find myself with exhausted ‘mojo’. Creativity fled as chaos rose, and it hasn’t arrived home yet, sadly. I love reading which plants you engage with, and when, and why…

    I’m especially excited by this installment of The Druid’s Garden blog as this very afternoon I was stroking a tiny Wood Betony friend, urging her on with the promise that warmer weather will be along in just a month or so, and I was also reminded of how over-zealous Mugwort has been since being introduced into the Medic Garden. Lemon Balm lives here with free-flowing delight, and Rosemary is a stalwart of the garden.. We even have beeswax from a recent honey harvest which needs just a final strain so it seems a very timely project to adopt… As Wood Betony is still petite in size, albeit robust in determination, I will leave her to dig her toes in more deeply and instead invite Mugwort and Lemon Balm if they’re willing to fill that gap..

    That combination feels especially suitable as my artworks are always drawn from Spirit, and, when my ‘mojo’ eludes me it is to Spirit I must journey to reconnect… ….. Thank you.. 🙂

    1. She who flutes in caves….blessings to you and nice to hear from you again. It sounds like you have many friends in the Medic garden that may be ready to lend a helping hand to get the Awen flowing again. The world is exhausting right now, and maybe these herbs are the balm to help the tired soul find inspiration again. Let me know how they work for you :). Blessings!

  2. Thank you Dana for this wonderful post! Creativity is such an important part of our lives, and you are right, we don’t focus on it as much as we should.

    1. Hi Diane, I am always surprised when I talk to people and they say they have no room for creative practices. I feel like its such an important part of being alive! Thanks for reading and your comment 🙂

  3. Fascinating post Dana, thank you for these insights. You have made me think of herbs in a completely new way. Blessings to you.

    1. Hi Denzil, Awesome! Always glad when I’m happy to share something that sparks ideas and opens doors! 🙂

  4. I have a little story regarding Lemon Balm. A few years ago I wished for some; decided to get some from my mother next time I visited. Then only 2 weeks later, before visiting my mother, Lemon Balm just appeared in my yard. Now it is somewhat invasive but I do appreciate her and love the sense that I summoned her!

    1. Aww, I love this! Lemon balm has been summoned for sure :).

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