If you’re a pagan parent, you probably find yourself wondering how to introduce your kids to the Craft appropriately. Luckily, you can teach the magical uses of herbs as early as toddlerhood. These nifty little herbal smelling jars make a useful teaching tool for kids of all ages.
The article below examines different approaches and modifications for introducing herbs in a way that is relevant to both their ages and your tradition.
Smelling Jars: The Basics
A smelling jar is a jar with holes in the top that you fill with aromatic herbs or spices.
Smelling jars make fantastic teaching tools for kids learning about the properties of magical plants.
You need not buy anything fancy. Simple salt-and-pepper shakers from the dollar store work just fine. Or, if you like easy DIY projects, just drill some holes in the top of a few old glass jars. (If you go with the latter option, make sure to wash the lids thoroughly after drilling. Tiny metal fragments from the drilling process may be toxic when inhaled).
Fill the jars with aromatic herbs, spices and essential oils and gather the kids around a table.
When choosing herbs to use in your smelling jars, consider how best to group them. For example:
By Magical Intent
One way to categorize herbs for smelling jars is to group them by magical intent. Group “sleeping” or “dreaming” herbs like lavender and peppermint. Or, try gathering some spices and herbs for creativity, like ground coffee and lemon peel.
By season or Sabbat
Try cultivating appropriate seasonal associations by grouping herbs according to their season or corresponding holiday.
Cinnamon, orange peel and ginger all work for Mabon, Samhain or the autumn season in general.
Evergreens like pine needle and rosemary are nice for winter or Yule.
For Ostara, Beltane and spring in general, try florals like rose and lavender.
For Midsummer, go with coconut or even seaweed.
By general category.
If you want to keep things purely secular, group herbs according to general categories, like “Evergreens,” “Citrus,” “Spicy Scents.” Grouping them this way helps little ones see the way plants, herbs and flowers relate to each other.
Enhancing Scents Naturally
Some herbs and flowers emit a very delicate scent. If the scent you want to feature in your jar is too faint, enhance it naturally with a few drops of essential oil.
Avoid at all costs using artificial fragrance oil, which never smells anything like the real deal and defeats the purpose of this activity.
Also, you probably have experienced “scent confusion” at the fragrance counter in the mall before. After a while, everything starts to smell the same. Clear your nose between sniffs by smelling coffee grounds, which “resets” your nose.
Including Youngsters and Challenging Older Kids
For the littlest ones in your tribe, simply encourage them to sniff whatever herb, spice or oil. Tell them what it is. Then ask them how it makes them feel. You might be surprised how closely their answers relate to traditional meanings. (“Lemon makes me feel awake!” or “Lavender makes me feel sleepy!”)
Let older kids experiment with different herb blends. Start with cheaper options, like pine needles, herbs found on nature walks or kitchen scraps like fruit peels. It takes a lot of trial and error to get good at blending, so save expensive, imported spices for more experienced mini practitioners.
Also, make sure to instill a sense of respect for the plants. Playing with herbs casually to treat illnesses is not okay! While simple recipes for cough syrup and tea can be safe, it’s important to seek professional advise for medical issues and never play to herbs to treat them unless under the supervision of a professional.