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Herbal Guide


The vitalist approach to healing is like an ecosystem, and herbalism is only one aspect of it. At its heart, vitalism is about living in accordance with nature. This means living harmoniously with it and learning to support your body’s natural intelligence through nutrition, hydration, rest, and other lifestyle habits. By understanding how vitalism extends into every corner of your life, you can make choices that energize you and fill you with vitality. 

In today’s blog post, you’ll learn:

  • The history and purpose of the vitalist perspective 
  • Why herbalism is only part of vitalism 
  • What it means to have vitality
  • Daily practices that generate energy and vitalism 
  • The main factors that influence your vitality
Lady’s Mantle (Alchemillia Vulgaris)

When you read the word “vitalism,” does herbalism come to mind? If it does, you aren’t wrong. After all, we speak extensively about the vitalist herbalism approach to healing. However, herbalism is only one facet of the complex cut gem which is the vitalism tradition. At its heart, this philosophy is about living in accordance with nature instead of against it. It means noticing how the trees release their leaves in preparation for winter mirrors your body’s need to slow down and rest during the colder months. 

This looks like eating when you are hungry, stopping when you are full, drinking when you are thirsty, and resting when you are tired. Although living by the vitalist philosophy can become more complex when you address matters of sickness, in its most basic form, it comes down to learning to honor and live according to your body’s natural intelligence. 

Resultantly, much of vitalism has nothing to do with herbalism, but instead focuses on nutrition, hydration, sleep, stress management, and cleansing, to name a few. Through understanding the philosophy behind traditional vitalist modes of healing, such as Ayurveda and Chinese medicine, your view of vitalism will broaden and help you live with these principles accordingly in your daily life. 

Lady’s Mantle (Alchemillia Vulgaris)

What Is Vitalism?

A common misbelief is that the concept of vitalism is exclusive to herbalism. However, this could not be farther from the truth! Although there are vitalist traditions and approaches to practicing herbalism, this philosophy and outlook can be found in every aspect of life.

Vitalism revolutionized my approach to herbalism and how I saw the world around me. At its core, vitalism is a lens and paradigm you choose to see the world. This perspective is built on the belief that there is an intrinsic intelligence to the natural world, including plants, animals, and the human body. 

You can see this intelligence in how plants respond to the changing seasons and how your body responds to a fever. When you get a fever, it means that a pathogen has made its way into your body. In response, your body stimulates the immune system and the higher regulatory center of your brain to close the pores and raise the internal body temperature to denature and eliminate the pathogen. From this perspective, you can see that a fever is a vital and intelligent response from the body to an invading pathogen. Since the body’s vital response is to increase the temperature to break the fever, the vitalist herbalist’s response would be to encourage this with diaphoretic herbs. 

These herbs open the pores and induce a sweat to encourage the fever process so that healing can ensue. In contrast, the allopathic model sees the fever as the enemy. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drugs are the standard choice for suppressing a fever. Although it may offer temporary pain relief, these drugs ultimately depress the body’s natural response to a pathogen, and while the NSAID suppresses the fever, the virus or bacteria can reproduce further. Once the drug wears off, you feel sicker than before, the fever is prolonged by several more days, and it becomes more difficult to treat.

As you can see from this example, vitalism is about learning to live harmoniously with nature instead of suppressing it. There is a natural ebb and flow to all sentient beings, and vitalism illuminates this like a candle flame to a wall. Its light shines, and your only job is to follow it. 

Motherwort (Leonurus Cardiaca)

Vitalism is Not Just About Herbalism

At its core, vitalism is a mode of perception. One of the ways you can see how it reaches beyond herbalism is by understanding that it is a paradigm in which you see the world. Instead of rose-colored glasses, you wear vitalism-colored glasses. With them, you perceive the natural rhythms and flows of nature. In turn, this helps you live a lifestyle that lives in accordance with them instead of against them. 

There are three ways you can observe patterns as a student of nature. The first is understanding how the changing seasons impact your internal seasons. Another way you can connect with nature is by noticing how you feel in different weather conditions. The third is how you feel in the ecosystem you live in.

Since the vitalist mode of perception recognizes that nature in the outside world impacts your internal world, you can take note of how the seasons, weather, and overall ecosystem you live in affect your physical and mental health. Do you feel yourself come alive during the wintertime, your mind finally cooled off from the summer heat and at ease, or do you feel anxious? How you feel during the changing seasons is valuable information that grants you tremendous insight into your constitution and energetic patterns.

It’s no secret that weather impacts mood. Over here in the Pacific Northwest, it can be cloudy and rain for six months straight! This can make you feel melancholic, and all of this dampness can make arthritis and other damp-type conditions feel worse. A significant step towards developing a relationship with the natural world is to recognize how you feel when there is different weather. Notice if you feel irritated by the sun or cannot get enough of the warmth. Likewise, do you feel soothed by the rain, or does it bring up feelings of sadness and lethargy you can’t shake? Since like increases like, you can deduce that you may be prone to heat patterns if heat makes you feel bad, or that you may be disposed to damp conditions if damp weather makes your symptoms feel worse. Lastly, take note of how the ecosystem you live in affects your health. Some people thrive in the dry heat, while others need cooler or damper climates. Nature is always giving you clues about what your body needs. The trick is to listen. 

What IS vitality?

What comes to mind when you think about the qualities and characteristics associated with vitality? 

The first measuring stick you can use is how much energy you have. Do you struggle to get out of bed each morning and drag yourself through the day, feeling exhausted? Or do you wake up feeling energized and have the sustained energy needed to move throughout the day and complete your tasks? Remember that you are not designed to be a machine, and you will feel tired at a certain point. However, these general patterns can help you identify how much vitality you are feeling across the board. 

You can identify high vitality through a glow of the skin, bright eyes, and healthy nails. Mentally, as clarity of the mind, good focus, cognition, and strong memory. Emotionally, by having the capacity and bandwidth to process your emotions healthily. These are some of the qualities I associate with being vital, healthy, and vibrant. What would you add?

Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea)

The Main Keys of Vitality

What determines your core vitality? Is it the herbs you take, the food you eat, or something out of your control?

The first component of vitality, simply put, is your genetics. Based on the genetics of your parents, you will have a certain innate degree of vitality. While some people are born with a strong and vital constitution, others are born with one more that is more sensitive. This essential vitality is known as jing in Chinese medicine. 

You can think of jing as your energy savings account. You begin life with a certain amount, and throughout your life, it slowly depletes as you face emotional challenges, sickness, and age. Jing is considered a vitality source that you cannot restore. That said, the goal is to preserve it through a healthy lifestyle. Aside from jing, there is a different form of vitality that you generate through everyday healthy practices, such as getting sufficient sleep, eating nourishing meals, giving yourself time to rest, and so on. This form of vitality is known as qi in Chinese medicine and is something you can influence through your daily decisions.

Stepping back from Chinese medicine and looking at the bigger picture, digestion is an essential determining factor of your vitality in nearly every mode of traditional medicine. Many of these systems view digestion as the root of the vital tree. If the digestive system (the root) is impaired, all consequential processes are impaired. If you think of your digestive system as the roots of a tree, then the soil is the food you eat to nourish it. There are two main aspects of digestion: The quality of the food and the state of your digestive system. Is your food healthy, nutrient-dense, and clean from pesticides, or is it heavily processed and void of nutrition? Secondly, are you able to digest the food you are eating, or do you get stomachaches, bloating, and inconsistent bowel movements?

It doesn’t matter if you buy the purest food on the planet if your digestive system cannot absorb the nutrients. While healthy foods encourage gut health, there are times when herbs and other practices are needed to restore digestive functioning. My teacher at Bastyr really got it right when he said, “You are not what you eat. You are what you assimilate.” For this reason, there is often a strong focus on digestive health in vitalist traditions. Healthy digestion could not be more pertinent in an era where poor farming practices, artificial additives, and high amounts of pesticides are causing a decline in nutrient content. Combine this with antibiotic trauma to the gut and food intolerances, and you got yourself a pretty serious picture. If you cannot effectively digest your food, your body will not be able to absorb the nutrients it needs to be well. Aside from food, your body requires hydration in the form of water and healthy fats and oils. Ultimately, this helps your body digest and assimilate food as well.

Another factor that influences your vitality is sleep and rest. There is only so long you can go before you need to pause for rest. If you take time to replenish you will learn to manage your energy well. If you keep pushing past exhaustion, you will soon be met with burnout. Taking time to rest recharges you with qi while driving yourself into burnout depletes jing. For this reason, it is important to take rest just as seriously as you do work. Feeling tired is a vital response to when your body needs rest. Instead of fighting it, learn to listen to it and honor the rhythms of your natural body. 

When Herbs Aren’t Enough

As you may have noticed by now, many pillars of vitality have nothing to do with herbs! The takeaway from here is that although herbs possess incredible healing potential, they are not always enough and cannot replace proper nutrition, hydration, and rest. 

In traditional and vitalist models of healing, herbs were seldom used alone. Instead, they were combined with other therapies to reach optimal results. For this reason, Ayurveda, Chinese medicine, and many other traditions focus heavily on food and cleansing protocols.

Some conditions can be healed by removing a food your client has an intolerance or allergy to. Autoimmune, joint pain, and mental health challenges can all be triggered by certain foods. That said, it doesn’t matter how many inflammatory-modulating or digestive remedies you give someone. If there is a specific food that fuels their digestive issues, they will need to eliminate the food to reach healing. Similarly, if someone has chronic anxiety because of nutrient deficiencies, you should work to correct these deficiencies instead of mitigating the symptoms with nervines. 

All herbal traditions from around the world are rooted in the vitalist approach to healing. There is traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, which stems from India, Greek medicine, homeopathy, physiomedicalism, and eclecticism. Despite having different names, each stems from the vitalist perspective. If you take the time to develop a relationship with the natural world, you will see that there is a vital force within plants, ecosystems, and the body.  

As a vitalist herbalist, it is this consciousness you need to learn to listen to. As I always say, “the herbalist is first, foremost, and forever a student of nature.” A key principle of vitalist herbalism is that you come to understand your body and how it works by studying the patterns of nature. The natural world possesses the information and wisdom to inform you of how your body, mind, and overall health work. Likewise, it reveals information to you about how plants function and heal. The more you study nature externally, the more you will understand nature internally. This core vitalist principle makes you a better herbalist since it enriches and deepens your understanding of how the body and medicinal plants work together. 

The Vitalist Herbalism Mini-Course

If you’re ready to explore the tradition of Vitalist Herbalism deeper make sure to click the button below to get on the waitlist for our popular FREE Vitalist Herbalism Mini-Course that opens up in a couple of weeks.

The Vitalist Herbalism Mini-Course gives you critical insights into people and plants that immediately make your practice of herbalism more effective so you can heal the whole person.

From holistic client intake and strategic formulation, to key practices to build your herbal confidence and competence, this complimentary workshop is the next step on your plant path towards becoming a practicing herbalist.

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The post Vitalism is NOT just about Herbalism appeared first on The School of Evolutionary Herbalism.

 

Blue Vervain is one of the most effective relaxant remedies in the Western Materia Medica. You can use Blue Vervain for a full spectrum approach to alleviating tension, whether that be psychological or a stiff neck. This herb acts as the conduit between your nervous and musculoskeletal systems, so you feel a sense of relief not only in the mind but in the body as well. 

In today’s blog post, you’ll learn:

  • The significance of the bitter and acrid tastes and their effects on the body and nervous system
  • Blue Vervain’s unique effects on the nervous, musculoskeletal, and female anatomical reproductive systems as well as the febrile mechanism, liver, and neck  
  • The emotional and psychological indications for Blue Vervain
  • Blue Vervain’s correspondence to Venus, “the great relaxant” 
  • How to prepare a palatable medicine with this bitter herb 
  • A formula using Blue Vervain for stress, burnout, and overwhelm 
Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata)

Blue Vervain has a long traditional usage in European herbal medicine and was considered a sacred plant to the druids. This plant has some very unique psycho-spiritual indications that aid in planetary and elemental imbalances culminating in the body and mind. It is one of the very best relaxant remedies available in the Western Materia Medica, and as you will learn, this property translates to nearly every aspect of the way it works in your body and mind. 

Common name: Blue Vervain 

Latin name: Verbena hastata 

Family: Verbenaceae

Tastes: Bitter, Acrid

Affinities: Nervous, musculoskeletal, and female anatomical reproductive systems, febrile mechanism, liver, neck region 

Actions: Nervine sedative, antispasmodic, bitter tonic, relaxant diaphoretic, emmenagogue

Energetics: Relaxant, cooling, drying 

Taste

Blue Vervain tastes bitter. Now when I say bitter, I mean so bitter it can induce nausea in large quantities. For this reason, you would not want to brew an infusion with it as it would be extremely difficult to drink. Like many bitter plants, Blue Vervain sends a shiver down your spine, alluding to its grounding effects on the vital force. This downward bearing action corresponds to many of Blue Vervain’s medicinal properties. 

The second taste associated with Blue Vervain is acrid. Although I like to think of this flavor as the combination of bitter and sour, Matthew Wood succinctly describes it as “the sensation of bile in your throat.” If you’re unfamiliar with this flavor, think of other acrid plants like Lobelia (Lobelia inflata), Kava-Kava (Piper methysticum), and Valerian (Valeriana officinalis). This taste indicates that the medicinal plant is antispasmodic. This action calms and soothes excess mental and physiological tension, ultimately leading to affinities in the nervous and musculoskeletal systems. 

Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata)

Affinities 

Blue vervain acts as a mediator between the nervous and musculoskeletal systems. By decreasing excess psychological tension, Blue Vervain softens musculoskeletal tension, which is often exacerbated by stress and anxiety. Blue Vervain has a specific affinity for the back of the neck and “the shoulders and up.” This makes it a valuable remedy for stiff shoulders, TMJ, and a sore neck. Blue Vervain relaxes tension in the liver, making it specific for headaches. More specifically, it works well for tension headaches that start in the back of the neck and radiate to your forehead. This plant is a valuable remedy for people with tension headaches since it supports the liver and the head, thereby addressing the root cause of the headache while alleviating painful symptoms. Illustrating another affinity for the head, Blue Vervain was traditionally used for epileptic seizures that started at the nape of the neck and moved downward. Nowadays, you would want to seek professional care in the case of a seizure, but the historical usage of Blue Vervain is consistent in its application for matters of the head. 

With its relaxant quality, Blue Vervain is an excellent herb for the female anatomical reproductive system and is used for many menstrual-related complaints, such as amenorrhea, cramping, and anxiety. This herb can alleviate physical and psychological tension associated with the preceding and first few days of menses. Although this application is less common, you can use Blue Vervain for spasms and pain in the urinary system in the case of kidney stones and similar conditions.

Because of its downward bearing and relaxant properties, Blue Vervain is a valuable remedy for the febrile system. This “system” describes the body’s process of circulating the blood to the periphery and opening the pores to induce a sweat during a fever. As mentioned before, Blue Vervain affects the liver because of its bitterness. However, it also impacts the gallbladder and entire digestive system by stimulating gastric secretions and bile for the healthy assimilation of fats and oils while encouraging elimination as well. 

Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata)

Actions

Blue Vervain is a nervine sedative. Herbs in this group differ from nervine hypnotics in that you can comfortably use them throughout the day without feeling tired. In fact, Blue Vervain can support you at school or work by regulating your nervous system and helping you feel calm enough to sit and focus for long periods. Just as it relaxes tension in the mind, Blue Vervain eases constriction and tightness in the musculature. As an antispasmodic, Blue Vervain relaxes the smooth muscles, which surround the organs, and skeletal muscles, which comprise most of the musculature in the body. 

Another way Blue Vervain’s relaxant effects translate to its medicinal properties is through its relaxant diaphoretic action. Diaphoretics are herbs you would use during a fever. There are two different types of diaphoretics; stimulant and relaxant. Stimulant diaphoretic herbs are typically hot, spicy, and pungent and work by directing the blood flow to the skin surface to relieve internal heat. You would typically use these in the beginning stages of a fever or when someone is pale and feeling cold. Relaxant herbs, on the other hand, are used when someone is feverish, hot, and tense. However, they cannot produce a sweat because the pores are contracted. People who need relaxant diaphoretics experience pain, can’t sleep, and may thrash around in irritability as the psychological and physical tension couple. This depiction is the perfect illustration for when you would want to use Blue Vervain. With its relaxant diaphoretic properties, it relaxes the pores of the skin and capillary beds beneath the skin so that the circulation can rise to the surface and produce a sweat, thereby relieving the internal heat of a fever. Blue Vervain is a specific for fevers that will not break and is the choice herb when a different diaphoretic is not working. 

As mentioned earlier, Blue Vervain is a strong bitter herb. Because of this, it improves digestion through increasing gastric secretions and bile, thereby enhancing the assimilation of fats and oils and encouraging elimination. By supporting the liver in its detoxification process, Blue Vervain prevents a “hot liver” pattern from developing and prevents tension headaches from occurring at the very core. Blue Vervain’s bitter tonic action also lends it an emmenagogue property that can facilitate healthy menstruation and alleviate menopausal symptoms. Blue Vervain is a specific remedy for hot flashes and is one of the best remedies you can use to relieve them. 

Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata)

Energetics

Blue Vervain is relaxant, cooling, and drying. You can see Blue Vervain’s relaxant property in virtually every aspect of its medicinal actions – from its ability to ease tense muscles to calming an irritable mind. Since it is bitter in taste and action, this lends it a particularly cooling effect energetically. Finally, because the bitterness of Blue Vervain increases secretions which ultimately leave the body, it has a net drying effect. Although Blue Vervain is deemed a drying plant in the Western model, the Chinese model states that Blue Vervain protects the fluids when “the yin is not holding down the yang.” This pattern describes a scenario where the internal heat is raging out of control because there are insufficient fluids, or moisture, to contain it. 

In the Ayurvedic model, Blue Vervain is a specific remedy for vata since this dosha is prone to tension in the body and mind. If you look at Blue Vervain, you might notice that the plant looks tense! This thin and spindly plant has narrow flower heads that point to the top. Altogether, a very vata-looking plant. Blue Vervain’s relaxant and antispasmodic properties help balance vata. However, the cooling and drying nature can aggravate this constitution over time. For this reason, it may be best to pair Blue Vervain with a warming or moistening plant to balance these energetics if you intend on administering this herb for a prolonged period. 

Blue Vervain is very helpful for pitta dosha as well since this constitution tends to run hot and can burn themselves out. The bitterness of the plant helps to cool their excited systems down while its relaxant property soothes an agitated mind. Blue Vervain is a specific remedy for when the fire and wind elements combine to create a negative feedback loop or when “there is a fire beneath the wind.” This can look like nervousness and anxiety leading to a high drive, burnout, and exhaustion. 

From the physiomedicalist perspective, Blue Vervain balances the wind/tension tissue state. This pattern can be boiled down to two words: Elevated vata. When there is wind/tension, there is psychological and mental tension combined with cramping and pain. Through Blue Vervain’s relaxant effects, it balances this tissue state and lead to greater balance.

Psychological and Emotional Aspects

Although herbalists make flower essences using all sorts of herbs these days, Blue Vervain was one of the original Bach flower essence remedies. This herb has a specific indication for people with mental excess, who get stuck in their head, think too much, and are extremely driven. Despite feeling burned out and exhausted, the Blue Vervain archetype keeps pushing forward. In the words of Matthew Wood, “Blue Vervain is for the avid list maker.” This person always has their to-do list and is adding yet another item to it. They tend to be really hard on themselves, and because they have such high ideals, they end up being hard on others since they expect them to live up to the nearly impossible standards they set for themselves. “Rest” is an unspoken word, and the burnout they feel leads to psychological and physical tension with patterns of nervousness, anxiety, and exhaustion. 

Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata)

Alchemical Correspondences

Astrologically, I place Blue Vervain under the domain of Venus. You can view this correspondence with its dainty and graceful morphology, relaxant effects on the wind/tension tissue state, affinity for the female anatomical reproductive system, and overall softening influence on the mind and body. 

Venus is known as “the great relaxant” in medical astrology. When you have an excess of Venus in your chart or constitution, your tissues may be overly lax and leak fluids, tending towards the damp/relaxation tissue state. Alternatively, your muscles may be tight and contracted if you have a Venus deficiency. With its antispasmodic actions, Blue Vervain works as a sympathetic venusian remedy to ease tension in the body and mind. 

Since the Blue Vervain archetype is so rigid, they can struggle quite a bit in their relationships since they tend to project unrealistic ideals onto the people in their lives. Additionally, they can have difficulty accepting people for how they are instead of how they want them to be. Since Blue Vervain is ruled by Venus, the planet of relationships, it can introduce a sense of ease and relaxation into the way you relate to others. 

Lastly, Blue Vervain is a specific remedy for the female anatomical reproductive system and supports menstrual and menopausal complaints. In a way, you can see that Blue Vervain is a Venusian remedy that balances an excess Mars. This is exemplified with its cooling and relaxant effects on fevers, psychological irritation, hot flashes, and the ability to mellow out fiery and driven dispositions prone to exhaustion. 

Blue Vervain is distinctly ruled by the Air Element – something you can observe through its morphology, herbal actions, energetics, and tissue state affinity. Morphologically, Blue Vervain is tall, skinny, and spindly. The upward movement of this plant indicates its psychological application for mental excesses, such as too much thinking, rumination, and mental stress. 

Blue Vervain is a nervine sedative with a clear effect on the mental and psychospiritual faculties. An interesting doctrine of signatures that allude to this property is Blue Vervain’s purple flowers, which are associated with the top of the head, crown chakra, brain, mind, and general higher centers. You can also see its correlations to the Air Element through its ability to modulate excess Wind (or vata) in the body and mind through its relaxant and antispasmodic effects, as well as its affinity for the nervous system. 

Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata)

Growing Blue Vervain

Blue Vervain is in the Verbenaceae family and is native to North America. This medicinal herb grows well in cool climates and can be found in parts of the United States and Canada. Verbena officinalis is natural to Europe and has a longstanding history there as well. Blue Vervain has a thin square stem and flowers that gather into a narrow cone-like shape at the top. This plant is beautiful, hardy, and easy to grow- making it the perfect medicinal herb to add to your garden. 

You can grow Blue Vervain from root cuttings or seeds. If you prefer to use the root, you should wait until the fall to cut the plant back and divide the roots for future propagation. If you would rather grow Blue Vervain from seeds, you should grow them in the early spring so that they can receive a cold stratification. This helps “wake” the seeds up and prime them for healthy growth later in the season. Because Blue Vervain self-seeds, you will likely find flowers popping up around your garden the following year. 

The medicinal parts of Blue Vervain are the aerial leaves and flowers. To prepare a plant medicine using Blue Vervain, simply pick off the leaves and flowers and proceed with your preparation. 

Preparation

Because Blue Vervain tastes so bitter, you are best off preparing it into a tincture to increase client compliance. You can tincture Blue Vervain fresh or dry. However, if you prefer to dry the plant, ensure it does not get too hot, or the medicinal compounds will degrade and lose their potency. For this reason alone, I prefer to tincture Blue Vervain fresh. 

To prepare a fresh Blue Vervain tincture, use 60% alcohol. To tincture it dry, use 40-50% alcohol. Because it is a nauseant bitter, it can upset the stomach in large doses. While not toxic, it can lead to mild gastric upset. If this occurs, simply lower the dosage. Blue Vervain is an emmenagogue herb, and thus is contraindicated during pregnancy. 

From its tall and rigid stance in the garden to its acrid taste and antispasmodic actions, Blue Vervain provides you with lots of signals that it is helpful for a particular pattern: Tension.

Whether you struggle with mental rumination, a tense and frozen neck, or the inability to slow down and rest, Blue Vervain teaches you that you do not have to work until your tank is empty. Rather, it is with a full cup that you are able to experience the daily joy and peace life has to offer, all while reaching your goals. 

Formula

Overwork and Stress Tincture Formula 

 20% Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata

 20% Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)

 20%  Agrimony (Agrimonia eupatoria)

 20% Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera

 20% Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus

This formula combines mild adaptogenic plants that help restore the vital force along with specific nervines that regulate the nervous system to increase calm and relaxation. 

Blue Vervain, Chamomile, and Agrimony settle tension and nervousness, while Ashwagandha and Shatavari replenish the endocrine system and strengthen vitality. This formula is indicated for when you feel burned out, exhausted, and tired out by a busy mind and busy life. Take 30 drops 3 times a day and adjust dosage as needed. 

The post Blue Vervain: The Overworked Remedy appeared first on The School of Evolutionary Herbalism.


Marshmallow, or Althea officinalis, is in my opinion one of the most important remedies to get acquainted with, as it’s one of our best demulcent remedies. While Althea derives from the Greek altho and means to cure, its family, the Malvaceae, is from the Greek word malake, which means soft. With these two simple words, you know almost everything about Marshmallow’s key signature and how its softening and moistening effects impact the body and mind. 

In today’s blog post, you’ll learn:

  • The importance of the sweet taste in herbalism and what it does in the body
  • Marshmallows’ unique influences on the mucosal membranes in the respiratory, digestive, genitourinary, and reproductive systems
  • The emotional indications of Marshmallow
  • How this plant is the quintessential remedy ruled by the Moon
  • The best (and worst) ways to extract Marshmallow
  • A simple and effective formula you can make yourself
Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis)

Marshmallow is often known as the sticky confection you burn over campfires, but are you familiar with the lesser-known Marshmallow plant?

Although marshmallows were historically made with this plant, today the name is merely an echo of its past. The medicinal application of Marshmallow dates back to the 9th century BCE and has been used in European and Greek traditional medicine for over 2000 years! 

Marshmallow is the quintessential demulcent herb in the Western Materia Medica, and this property translates into every way that it impacts the body and mind. Moreover, it is the perfect example of how a plant’s growing conditions and morphology can reflect its internal applications. 

Common name: Marshmallow 

Latin name: Althaea officinalis

Family: Malvaceae  

Tastes: Sweet

Affinities: Mucosal membranes 

Actions: Demulcent (laxative, expectorant, diuretic), Emollient, Inflammation Modulating, Immune Modulating 

Energetics: Slightly cooling, moistening

Taste

Marshmallow is one of the best depictions in the Western Materia Medica of a sweet-tasting herb. The concept of the sweet taste often conjures images of sugar and candy. However, in herbal medicine, the sweet taste signifies the presence of carbohydrates in a plant. For example, rice, potatoes, and other root vegetables are classified as sweet because of their high carbohydrate content. 

According to Ayurveda, the sweet flavor comprises the Earth and Water Elements. Herbs with this flavor are used to rebuild, replenish, and restore tissues that have become weak and atrophied due to excess dryness and malnourishment. The earthen aspect of Marshmallow grants it its rejuvenating and nourishing quality, while its moistening property corresponds to the Water Element.

Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis)

Affinities 

Marshmallow’s core affinity is the mucosal membranes. These tissues are unique in that they line all organ systems exposed to the outside world, this includes the respiratory, digestive, and urinary tracts, as well as the reproductive system. 

The mucosal membrane tissue protects the body from invading pathogens by coating these organ systems with immunological component rich mucus. This substance traps foreign substances and prevents them from entering the body. When these tissues become overly dry, they can become more prone to pathogenic invasion and infection. 

So while many resources will note Marshmallow has an affinity for the lungs, urinary tract, and intestines, the core affinity is simply the mucosa. And because of the unique influence upon that mucosa, we’ll see it having an influence upon immunity, since these surface protectant mucosa are an integral part of the immune system. 

“The root of Marshmallow is demulcent and diuretic, and will be found valuable in diseases of the mucous tissues, as hoarseness, catarrh, pneumonia, gonorrhoea, vesical catarrh, renal irritation, acute dysentery, and diarrhoea. In strangury, inflammation of the bladder, hematuria, retention of urine, some forms of gravel, and indeed in nearly every affection of the kidney and bladder, their use will be found advantageous. Much use is made of Marshmallow in urinary derangements. They are likewise efficacious in gastro-intestinal irritation and inflammation.” ~ King’s Dispensatory

Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis)

Actions 

Marshmallow is a top-tier demulcent herb as it hydrates overly dry tissues through its constituents known as mucilaginous polysaccharides. This is its core action as a demulcent. These compounds are essentially long-chain sugar molecules that bind with water to produce mucilage. This mucilage hydrates dry and irritated tissue linings aggravated by heat and inflammation. Because the body is prone to heat conditions when it is overly dry, Marshmallow solves the problem at the root and alleviates symptoms by hydrating the tissues. A specific pattern that Marshmallow root is used for is yin deficiency. Chinese medicine describes this pattern as heat arising from excess dryness instead of “true heat.”

Marshmallow’s demulcent property leads to other actions, such as its inflammation-modulating and immune-modulating effects. Since the body responds to Marshmallow as an antigen once it reaches the gut, this herb stimulates the immune system while lowering inflammation by sedating heat in the tissues. 

As Marshmallow moistens the mucosal membranes of each of these systems, it leads to secondary actions that are unique to each. Marshmallows’ demulcent property produces an expectorant quality in the respiratory system, diuretic action in the genitourinary system, and laxative effect in the digestive system. Again, its common to see these actions noted in Marshmallow monographs, and while they are true, it is critically important to understand that they are a result of its core demulcent action.

Lastly, Marshmallow is emollient. While some herbalists define this as a topical demulcent, such as Aloe (Aloe vera) on a burn, emollients are herbs that soften hardness. This quality goes hand in hand with its demulcent property since it softens tissues that have contracted and hardened from excess dryness. It is important to remember that these actions do not occur in isolation. If you had a cough that you wanted to alleviate and opened up an herbal book you may find Marshmallow listed as an expectorant. However, it is a moistening and demulcent expectorant. This means that while it can help with dry hacking coughs, it can make a cold and wet cough even worse. It is essential that you understand the energetics behind a plant before you use it. By doing so, you can ascertain whether or not a plant is compatible for your constitutional pattern and whether it is the correct remedy for you.

Energetics

Marshmallow is a quintessential moistening herb. It is slightly cooling and sedates heat and inflammation, but it is not cool enough to cause constitutional coldness. This herb is neutral in tone- neither relaxing nor tonifying. From the Ayurvedic perspective, Marshmallow decreases vata with its moistening and softening properties. It also decreases excess pitta with its ability to sedate heat and moisten the tissues to balance yin deficiency (vata). Marshmallow is contraindicated for kapha since it can elevate the already damp and cold nature of this constitution. 

Marshmallow balances the dry/atrophy and heat/excitation tissue states. With dry/atrophy, its demulcent and emollient properties moisten, hydrate, and soften dried tissue that has lost functionality. By rejuvenating the dry tissues, Marshmallow decreases the heat and inflammation that often ensues, thereby balancing heat/excitation. This herb is particularly helpful for excess heat in the upper GI, such as problems with the esophagus like acid reflux, burning, and ulceration.

Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis)

Psychological and Emotional Aspects 

Aside from its physical medicine, the moistening and softening attributes of Marshmallow ripple into its psychological and emotional aspects. There is a distinct softness and tenderness to this plant. From feeling the soft leaves to looking at the delicate flowers, Marshmallow exudes a gentle energy. Just as it softens hardness in the tissues, Marshmallow softens a hardened mind and heart. This herb is an excellent remedy if you are feeling emotionally stuck, rigid, and depleted. Additionally, it can help you process and express difficult emotions when you are feeling too exhausted to do so. In short, it instills a degree of gentleness for the person that has become emotionally “hard” and shut down.

Alchemical Correspondences

Marshmallow is the archetypal lunar remedy in my opinion. Morphologically, the silvery coloration to the underside of the leaf, milky white and slight purple coloration to the flower, overall soft texture, and affinity for moist environments are classic lunar remedy traits. 

Since the Moon rules secretions, moisture, and overall hydration, Marshmallow’s cooling, moistening, demulcent, and emollient effects on the mucosal membranes correspond to this planet as well. The Moon improves your body’s ability to receive nutrients and by hydrating the tissues and improving their functionality, Marshmallow does this too. The Moon is the archetype of the Mother, and thus embodies a nurturing, gentle, and nourishing quality. 

Elementally, Marshmallow is ruled by water. You can see this correspondence through its actions on the mucosa, urinary tract, reproductive system, moistening effects, and even its preferred menstruum for medicine making: Water.

Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis)

Growing Marshmallow  

Marshmallow is a hardy herb native to Europe that you can grow from seeds or root cuttings. If you want to grow Marshmallow using seeds, gently rub them on sandpaper before you plant them to open up the outer membrane and facilitate germination. Alternatively, you can plant the root cuttings to speed things up. The best time to plant Marshmallow is in the cold and early spring. 

This plant thrives in moist environments and grows well in swampy and boggy environments. If neither of these options works for you, rest assured that Marshmallow grows well in full sun as well. With its soft and tender leaves and flowers, Marshmallow is a sensory delight. Because Marshmallow is in the mallow family, the flowers are like hollyhocks with a milky white to light purple hue. The leaves, flowers, and roots of Marshmallow are all medicinal, and you can use them in different parts of their growth cycles to make medicine, though the root is considered the primary part used. 

Once the plant is in flower you can pick the flowers and leaves to make medicine. Our experience is usually just picking a few flowers, placing them in water for a slightly demulcent, mucilaginous, cooling infusion (made with room temperature water).  However, if you are interested in using the root, you should wait 2-3 years for the plant to mature. The best time to dig up the roots is in the fall after the plant has died back or in the early spring before all the energy is focused on growing up and out.. If you prefer the dried root instead of fresh, make sure to use a dehydrator to prevent molding. Although many herbs can be left out to dry organically, the mucilage in the roots can lengthen this process.

Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis)

Preparation

Whether you are using Marshmallow flowers, leaves, or roots- this plant loves water. Although infusions are typically made with hot water, the best way to prepare Marshmallow is with a cold water infusion. To do so, take one tablespoon of the dried root and place it in a jar with eight ounces of water. Let this sit for four hours or overnight before you strain and drink. Because the mucilage will be thick, you will need to pour the mixture into a cheesecloth or almond milk bag and squeeze to strain it effectively. If you need Marshmallow immediately, such as for acid reflux, you can stir one teaspoon of the root powder into one cup of water and drink for almost instant relief. 

Marshmallow does not tincture well because of its mucilaginous compounds, which are only soluble in water. To be more precise, these constituents are hydrated in water, as they don’t exactly dissolve in water. If you prepare an alcohol-based medicine with it, the mixture will coagulate and be particularly messy. Because Marshmallow’s key characteristic is moisture, it makes sense intuitively and practically to prepare it with water and to drink it as such. Something to keep in mind is that plants high in mucilage can inhibit the uptake of other nutrients of medications in the GI. Therefore, it is advised that you drink Marshmallow three hours before or after taking pharmaceuticals or supplements. 

Marshmallow is an excellent herb to work with if you are new to herbalism. Its taste is relatively simple, and all of its actions, energetics, and organ affinities work together in a simple yet wondrous harmony. From ancient Egypt until today, Marshmallow is a treasured herbal remedy ready to provide you with healing. 

Formula 

Moistening Demulcent Pair

80% Marshmallow (Althea officinalis)
 

20% Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)

This pair can be used to moisten any kind of dry/atrophic or depleted conditions and is best prepared using powders mixed in a small amount of water or as a tea. Since Licorice yields better results when made into a hot infusion, you should prepare this part first and then stir in the Marshmallow once it has sufficiently cooled. This formula is beneficial for hot dry irritable coughs, acid reflux, and inflammations of the GI tract.

The post Marshmallow: The Great Moistener appeared first on The School of Evolutionary Herbalism.

 

Some client cases are straightforward, while others leave you scratching your head and unsure where to begin. If you have ever had a client with a myriad of symptoms, you might worry that you are giving them too many herbs, formulas, or are altogether overwhelming them.

Just because your client’s case is complicated does not mean your protocol needs to be. Through learning techniques for working through complex cases, you can make your herbal protocols as simple and effective as possible. 

In today’s blog post, you’ll learn:

  • Different approaches to formulating 
  • How many formulas to give someone at the same time
  • 3 methods for simplifying complex herbal cases 
  • Methods for including your client in the process to increase compliance 
Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata)

Have you ever been approached by a client with a complex case history, multitude of conditions, and overlapping symptoms and thought, “How on earth am I going to formulate for this client?”

While your instinct may be to design many different formulas, this begs the question, “Is it possible to take too many remedies at the same time?”

Although there may not be negative health consequences to taking a multitude of herbs, there can be other issues with this approach, such as poor client compliance, burnout, and financial limitations. 

Instead of defaulting to this approach, you can learn about key techniques to simplify complicated cases and make herbal formulas that are incredibly effective –  even if they are made with just a few herbs. 

How Many Herbs Should You Put In Your Formula?

More is More vs Less is More

Some herbalists make large and complex formulas featuring a dozen herbs, an approach popular in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda. With this approach, your client can easily take up to thirty herbs or more daily with as few as two formulas. 

On the other end of the spectrum, you’ll find herbalists who favor taking one remedy at a time. There are some advantages to this approach that complex formulaic blends don’t always offer- such as being able to pinpoint which herbs are working and achieving your goals and which ones are not. 

You don’t need to use dozens of herbs to see excellent results in your practice, and you should in no way feel pressured to do so. Designing complex formulas with many herbs does not make you a more advanced herbalist than one who creates simple but effective triplets. What matters most is that your client is seeing the results they want and are experiencing relief. If you can achieve this in a singular remedy made from a few herbs, there is no reason why you should try to overcomplicate things with more than one formula featuring dozens of herbs. 

There may be times when you have a specific remedy in mind that you want to suggest but something about it doesn’t fit as well as you would like it to. In those moments, ask yourself whether you need to balance the energetics by pairing it with a warming, cooling, drying, moistening, relaxing, or tonifying herb. Once you have thought of another herb or two to pair it with, consider whether your formula requires a circulatory herb, like Ginger (Zingiber officinale), to drive the formula deeper into the body. This straightforward approach can help you make exceptionally effective formulas with minimal herbs. 

How Many Formulas Should You Give Your Client? 

Although some herbalists are comfortable giving dozens of remedies, others prefer to give one formula at a time to find out what’s working before adding even more herbs to their system. Others stand in the middle, choosing to give just a few remedies at a time. 

Which approach is best? Honestly, I think it boils down to your client and their preferences. Other factors that will influence the number of remedies needed include their condition, its severity, and how many your client is willing to take. 

Newer herbal practitioners often make the mistake of creating overly complicated protocols. These may technically hit all the marks, but they are so complex that they leave their client feeling overwhelmed and unable to take anything. Although you might have thought of the perfect protocol, telling your client to take three different tinctures throughout the day with different dosages and dietary and lifestyle changes can leave them feeling frozen in place and unable to make any positive changes moving forward. 

If you want your client to see results, you are best off recommending one or two simple remedies they can easily comply with than a laundry list of herbal medicines. Once your client has seen improvements and has become comfortable taking their herbs, you can discuss adding another remedy and whether they have the bandwidth to do so. 

3 Best Practices for Complex Cases

No one (well, most people) likes to receive a laundry list of herbal remedies they need to take daily. Although herbalists might navigate this with particular ease, this is often the result of their passion and knowledge in the subject matter. 

If your client is feeling stressed about taking numerous remedies and prefers to take a single formula each day, you need to make sure that it covers the bases as much as possible and packs a punch. 

This might not be too difficult to do if your client approaches you with a simple and straightforward issue. However, what do you do when your client has multiple overlapping symptoms and conditions, such as mental and digestive health challenges? 

I have found that three of the best practices for complicated cases include “peeling the onion,” finding overlapping properties in your herbs, and including your client in the process. Read on to learn about each approach. 

 

Peel the onion

Ask questions. Lots of them! Although your client might complain about many painful symptoms, scratch beyond the surface by asking them to walk you through their healthy history. 

When was the first time they began experiencing symptoms, and what were they? What are the most recent developments in their conditions? By asking them to walk you through their timeline, you might discover that they drank some bad water. Resultantly, they had to take a round of antibiotics, their digestion went downhill, and eventually, their mental health took a toll. Nothing occurs in a vacuum, and symptoms and conditions are certainly not an exception to this rule.

When you peel the onion, you can either start from the center point of trauma or work outwards in by addressing the most severe of symptoms and slowly making your way to the underlying root cause. The direction you choose to work in will differ from client to client depending on the severity of their symptoms. Ideally, I think it is best to use this information to correct the initial imbalance while offering remedies that offer pain relief to the resulting symptoms. 

By taking the time to understand the progression of events, you can trace the onset of illness to a specific cause and understand the medical trauma or energetic imbalance that led to their current state. 

Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)

Find Overlapping Properties

One of the best ways you can simplify an herbal protocol is by selecting herbs with overlapping properties. Instead of creating two formulas, one for healthy digestion and one for mental relaxation, you can make a single formula using herbs that accomplish both goals. 

To give a practical example, imagine that you have a client with stomach ulcers and anxiety. They are in a lot of pain from these ulcers, and this leads to stress and mental tension. As their anxiety rises, so do their digestive symptoms. Your first thought may be to give your client two distinct formulas. The first formula uses digestive, demulcent, and pain relieving herbs to heal the ulcer and get their digestion on track. The second formula focuses on lowering their anxiety. Although the intentions are there, it is certainly more difficult for someone to take two remedies instead of one in terms of time, emotional bandwidth, and affordability. 

Instead of viewing these two systems as separate, think about the relationship between digestion and stress and herbs that affect the nervous and digestive systems. Some herbs that impact both systems include Chamomile (Matricaria recutita), Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca), Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis), Hops (Humulus lupulus), and even Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare). 

After you have identified herbs with overlapping organ affinities, the next step is to think about the actions and energetics needed to bring healing. For example, does your client need bitter tonics, carminatives, or antispasmodics in the digestive system? In terms of their nervous system, do they need nervine sedatives, nervine hypnotics, or adaptogens? From there, consider what net energetic effect you want the formula to have. Does their system need to be warmed up, cooled down, moistened, dried, relaxed, or tonified? In this case, you may need to add a demulcent herb like Slippery Elm (Ulmus fulva) even though it does not provide an action on the nervous system. 

Once you have laid out all of this information, you will be able to identify a few select herbs with specific indications for your client, cover all the bases, and combine well to produce an effective formula. Although you need to know your herbs quite well to take this approach, it is incredibly effective at helping you to pinpoint remedies that will help your clients most – without an expensive price tag or a cabinet full of forgotten tincture bottles.

Ask!

If you are an herbalist, you were likely drawn to this field because of your passion for plants and the healing power of nature. While your client may also be interested in natural medicine, many folks wind up with an herbalist because they feel burned out from the conventional system of medicine, being talked over by practitioners, and facing medical trauma.

With this in mind, it is critical that you include your client in the decision-making process when designing a protocol. Although you may have thought of the perfect regimen involving three tinctures a day, two infusions, and one capsule, your good intentions can lead to poor client compliance if it ignores their feelings, wishes, and motivations. 

One method you can use to engage your client is stating the purpose of each herbal remedy and briefly explaining how each work. Explaining why you are suggesting them puts a sense of control into your client’s hands and can help them feel like they are an active part in their pursuit of better health. Furthermore, it can significantly increase compliance and lead to better results. 

After you have explained the role of each remedy, ask your client which one(s) they are most eager to begin taking and which they feel the most hesitancy. Ask why, listen to their concerns, and think of alternative solutions that will improve compliance. This might be staggering the intake of different remedies over the course of a few weeks, so they have time to get used to taking them, developing a plan to fit medicine making (like an infusion) into their busy day, or finding a different delivery method for an herb with a taste they have an aversion to. 

Understanding your clients’ health challenges holistically and determining which herbs will restore them to health is only one part of being an herbalist. The other aspect is speaking openly and honestly with your clients about how they feel about following your protocol. 

By telling them that their voice is an important part of their healing process, you can troubleshoot potential issues, increase compliance, see better results, and empower them to become agents in their healing process. 

Although you might have shied away from working with clients with complex cases until now, these opportunities are springboards for growth that can propel you further into your herbalism career and help you develop the confidence you need to excel on your plant path. 

The post How Many Remedies Should You Give at a Time? appeared first on The School of Evolutionary Herbalism.

 


Chamomile is a familiar plant with an unmistakable scent and flavor. It is one of the most popularly used and loved herbs, and most folks have a box of it sitting in their cupboard. 

Although sipping on some Chamomile tea at the end of the day is nice, its medicinal properties are complex, and there are different preparations you can make with it. By taking a deeper look into this plant, you can learn about the specific indications and unique properties that make this herb indispensable to the Western Materia Medica. 

In today’s blog post, you’ll learn:

  • What Chamomile tastes like and how this corresponds to its actions in the body
  • Its unique influences on the nervous and digestive systems and the juncture between the two
  • The emotional indications of Chamomile
  • Its associations with the planet Mercury and Venus
  • How to make different herbal preparations with Chamomile 
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)

Chamomile is often thought of as “the beginner herb,” but is that really true?

Well known for its soothing effects and ability to help you unwind after a long day, Chamomile is a standard household herb. Despite its commonality, Chamomile is a complex herb with a single golden thread that weaves all of its properties together. 

This hearty herb favors full sun and cool environments. It is native to Europe and parts of Asia and today is found growing throughout America. German Chamomile is an annual plant and completes its life cycle within one year. However, this herb is the gift that keeps giving since the flowers grow back quickly once you pluck them. 

If you think you know everything about Chamomile, here’s your chance to test your knowledge and learn something new. 

Common name: Chamomile (German Chamomile) 

Latin name:  Matricaria recutita

Botanical Family: Asteraceae family
Tastes: Bitter, Aromatic, Sweet 

Affinities: Digestive, Nervous 

Actions: Inflammation Modulating, Bitter Tonic, Carminative, Nervine Sedative, Spasmolytic

Energetics: Cooling, Drying, Relaxing 

Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)

Taste

Chamomile has a rather complex taste profile. While most people note its sweet taste first, this is likely because tea bags typically contain small amounts of herbs that people steep for a short time. If you picked some fresh Chamomile and stepped an infusion with it for twenty minutes, you’d be surprised by how distinctly bitter this herb tastes!

The high content of volatile essential oils grants Chamomile a floral, pungent, and deeply aromatic flavor. When this couples with its bitter taste, you’ve got an aromatic bitter herb. These three tastes directly translate to Chamomile’s affinities in the body. 

Chamomile is an important remedy with us, particularly in affections of young children. It has two particular specific fields of action—one upon the nervous system, subduing nervous irritability, and the other upon the gastro-intestinal tract, relieving irritation. ~ Excerpt from Felter & Lloyd’s Kings Dispensatory from 1898

Affinities 

Bitter and aromatic herbs impact the digestive system, albeit in different ways. The aromatic qualities of Chamomile lend it a carminative quality while the bitter taste stimulates gastric secretions, thereby creating a formula unto itself. Indeed, pairing a bitter tonic herb with a carminative plant, like Gentian (Gentiana spp.) and Ginger (Zingiber officinale), is common practice in herbalism. Since Chamomile contains both qualities, it is a top-tier digestive remedy. 

People all over the world use Chamomile to relax, unwind, and ease into sleep. It should come as no surprise then that the most popularly known affinity is the nervous system. While Chamomile does have an affinity for the nervous system, it’s important not to compartmentalize this aspect but to see it as part of a larger whole. 

When you consider that Chamomile is a nervous system remedy, acts as a nervine sedative, a bitter tonic, and carminative, you’ve got a prime herb for people with nervous digestion. This can be someone who experiences digestive distress, whether it be gas, diarrhea, or a change in appetite in response to stress. Chamomile addresses every aspect of the nervous and digestive system connection and is an excellent remedy for nervous digestion. 

Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)

Actions 

Chamomile contains azulene and chamazulene, which are two constituents well studied to be inflammation-modulating and sedative to heat and irritation in the body. This action is especially seen in the digestive system, where Chamomile’s other properties synergize to support healthy digestion. 

As a bitter tonic, Chamomile increases gastric secretions and bile to stimulate digestion and help your body break down rich or fatty foods. In this way, it also has a mild laxative effect and alleviates constipation. As a carminative and spasmolytic herb, Chamomile increases blood flow to the digestive system to dispel gas and bloating, reduce tension and spasms in the gastrointestinal tract, and improve overall functioning, 

With a strong affinity for the nervous system, Chamomile soothes the mind and promotes calm with its nervine sedative qualities. Nervine sedatives are different from nervine hypnotics, like Kava-Kava (Piper methysticum), in that you can use them throughout the day to take the edge off and they won’t make you feel mentally foggy or tired. The nervine sedative action pairs well with Chamomile’s digestive properties to soothe the digestive system – making it one of the #1 herbs for folks who experience gastrointestinal distress, such as stomachaches, diarrhea, and bloating, when they feel anxious. 

I have learned that while Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is used for nervous digestive conditions rising upward, like nausea or “butterflies,” Chamomile is used for digestive conditions rising downward, like diarrhea. This is an interesting distinction you can try out for yourself. 

Chamomile is a top-tier herb for digestive conditions related to inflammation, such as colitis, irritable bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and much more. Since these inflammatory digestive conditions are often made worse by stress and anxiety, Chamomile provides two therapeutic supports through its effects on the digestive and nervous systems. 

Whether you are on the road to recovery or want to prevent gastrointestinal conditions from developing, having a pot of Chamomile ready during stressful times is always a good idea. 

Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)

Energetics

Chamomile is predominantly cooling, and although volatile oils are often warming, this herb’s volatile oils yield a net cooling effect. Its ability to cool inflamed and irritated tissues make it an excellent herb for heat patterns. This herb is drying and does not possess any moistening qualities. In terms of tone, Chamomile has an overt relaxant effect on the tissues. 

Ayurvedically, Chamomile reduces excess pitta dosha with its heat-sedating effects. It reduces excess vata with its antispasmodic and nervine actions but can aggravate it over time by elevating the cold and dry nature of this dosha. Thus, it might be best to formulate it with a warming or moistening plant to make it suitable for this constitution. 

In the physiomedicalist model, Chamomile is indicated for the wind/tension and heat/excitation tissue states. While its cooling and inflammation-modulating properties sedate heat and irritation associated with heat/excitation, its spasmolytic and nervine effects decrease systemic tension in the mind and body, making it an excellent herb for the wind/tension tissue state. 

Matricaria is conspicuously a child’s remedy, but not distinctly so. A few drops in half of a glass of water, given every few minutes in dram doses, will quiet extreme restlessness and irritability. The general soothing effect is satisfactory.  ~  Ellingwood’s Materia Medica, 1919  

Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)

Emotional Aspects 

There is so much to say about the emotional aspects of Chamomile, but I think Matthew Wood sums it up quite nicely when he says that “Chamomile is for babies of all ages.”

Chamomile is indicated for fussy, moody, whiny, and petulant children and adults who cannot find appeasement or contentment. The Chamomile type might want something badly, and once they obtain it do not want it anymore.

Flower Essence Services (FES) lists Chamomile as being indicated for people who are “easily upset, moody and irritable, and have an inability to release emotional tension, especially in the stomach or solar plexus region.” Chamomile is so safe, gentle, and effective that you can give it to small children and the elderly and see fantastic results in both despite such gaps in age.  

A therapeutic application of Chamomile worth exploring is for elderly folks with dementia. People with dementia often suffer from mood swings, anxiety, and upset from the disorientation they face daily. Chamomile is an excellent remedy to consider for this as it is gentle, soothing, and tasty enough for daily use. 

Alchemical Correspondences

Astrologically, Chamomile corresponds to two different planets. Chamomile shares many qualities associated with Mercury, such as its light, thin, and airy plant structure that grows up and out, its aromatic nature, and balancing effects on the wind/tension tissue state. 

Through another lens, you can see how Chamomile correlates with Venus. This planet is known as “the great relaxant,” and Chamomile’s relaxant effect, sedative action, and perfumy scent correspond to this planet. Its feathered leaves morphologically correspond to Venus as well. Chamomile’s ability to reduce heat and inflammation associated with tension, spasm, and constriction correlates quite nicely to either planet. 

Chamomile’s ruling element is air, which is characterized by its high volatile oil content, an affinity for the nervous system, and balancing effects on the wind/tension tissue state.

Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)

Growing Chamomile 

Chamomile is a light-dependent germinator that grows best when you plant it in the fall or early spring. Because the seeds are so lightweight, you need to sprinkle some vermiculite on top to prevent them from flying away- especially when you water them. You can sow the seeds directly into the surface of the soil or into flats. Whichever you choose, ensure they can still see the light or they will not germinate. Even though Chamomile might look like a delicate plant, it is actually quite hardy and does well in cooler climates and full sun. Chamomile is an annual plant. This means that it grows for one season and needs to be replanted again in the next year. Even though it is an annual, Chamomile tends to self-seed and can surprise you in the following year with some new flowers around the yard. However, this plant struggles against weeds, so if you’re looking for a bed of Chamomile, you are best off replanting it in a designated area. 

In the early morning, the Chamomile petals bunch towards the center, but as the sun warms the plant, it stretches its petals open, and you will see the beautiful and distinct ray of petals. Since the flowers have not yet baked in the sun all day, this is the best time to harvest the plant. You can either pick the flower heads off yourself or use a Chamomile rake, which resembles a berry picker, to make the process more efficient. Once you harvest the flowers, they will keep growing for another week or so, leading to a second round. This process will continue for around a month before its season dwindles. 

Preparation:

Chamomile contains high levels of volatile oils, and making an infusion with the fresh plant will draw out the spasmolytic and inflammatory modulating properties best. If the fresh plant is not available, you can use the dried herb, which produces a more bitter flavor, thus making it better for the digestive system. Whether you use fresh or dried Chamomile, you should always prepare your infusion with a lid to prevent the essential oils from escaping through the steam.

For an infusion, use 2-4 grams of an herb to one cup of hot water and steep for 15-20 minutes. You can enjoy this warm or chilled on a hot day. For teething children, a cloth soaked with chamomile tea is placed in the freezer and used in place of a freezable chew. Taking a quart jar, filling it halfway with Chamomile flowers and boiling water, and affixing the lid on and leaving it to steep for twenty minutes will yield a very potent medicinal brew ideal for inflammation in the gut. 

If you prefer to make a tincture with Chamomile, use a ratio of 1:2 at 50-60% alcohol with fresh plant material and a ratio of 1:5 in 40% alcohol for dried Chamomile. A starting dose is 30 drops, although you can experiment with taking more or less until you find the right dose for you. 

Another way I have found Chamomile to be personally very helpful is through its topical application in the form of essential oil. Chamomile alleviates musculoskeletal pain, and when I experience pain in my knees or joints, massaging a bit of the essential oil in a carrier oil, like Sesame oil, reduces inflammation and offers pain relief. 

If Chamomile is a familiar herb to you, experiment with how you take it. Try tincturing it in alcohol or steeping it into a strong infusion. How does the taste differ, where do you feel it in your body, and what are its effects?

Consider Chamomile a good friend. The more you build a relationship with this plant and get to know it, the deeper you’ll understand it and the ways it can restore balance to your life.

The post Chamomile: Beyond the Teabag appeared first on The School of Evolutionary Herbalism.

The urinary system is one of the main eliminatory pathways of the body. When it becomes blocked, detoxification is inhibited, and infections and kidney stones can occur.

The first step you need to take before taking herbal medicine is identifying the underlying tissue state of your unique condition. By doing so, you can select herbs with precision to alleviate painful symptoms while resolving the issue at its core. 

In today’s blog post, you’ll learn:

  • The urinary system’s primary functions 
  • How the 6 tissue states express themselves in the urinary system
  • Specific herbs that balance each urinary system tissue state 
  • What kidney stones and UTIs  are, and what actions and herbs you can use for them 
  • Nutrition and lifestyle recommendations for a healthy urinary system 
Cleavers (Galium aparine)

What does the urinary system really do, other than the obvious?

The urinary system includes the kidneys, ureter, bladder, and urethra. Although your first association may be its production of urine, this function is merely a part of its highly sophisticated process. 

Your kidneys and urinary tract are responsible for maintaining the balance of minerals and liquid to solid elements in the body. They also filter and cleanse the bloodstream of impurities, regulate the acidity and alkalinity of the system, and equalize blood pressure for a healthy cardiovascular system. In these ways, it is an essential aspect of your body’s detoxification processes, putting it on par with the skin, bowels, lungs, and liver. 

When kidney or urinary tract infections occur, it means that one of your body’s primary elimination channels is blocked or inhibited. This can lead to a backup of toxins and a spike in inflammation and pain. 

Kidney stones and urinary tract infections (UTIs) are two of the most common urinary system conditions people face. Through understanding the underlying tissue states behind each case, you can select herbal remedies that reduce pain while restoring the urinary system to health.

Urinary System Tissue States

Urinary tract infections occur when bacteria enter the urethra and infect the urinary tract. Common culprits include sex and conditions that block the urinary tract, like kidney stones. The infection can affect several parts of the urinary system. Although the most common one is cystitis, a bladder infection, it can also develop into something more serious like pyelonephritis, a kidney infection. Common urinary tract infection symptoms include frequent urination, pain when urinating, and pain in the abdomen or pelvic area. 

The conventional approach to UTI treatment is antibiotics. Although there are times when an infection is severe enough to warrant this approach, antibiotics are often overprescribed and destroy the healthy flora of the urinary tract, leaving you even more susceptible to future infections. If you experience frequent UTIs, it is important to ascertain if there are any contributing factors, like diet, sexual hygiene, or ill-fitting clothing. After considering and eliminating said factors, you can take the next step by taking herbs to restore your urinary system back to health.

Although the symptoms of UTIs or kidney stones may be similar, their underlying energetics vary from person to person. For this reason, it’s paramount that you ascertain the tissue state imbalance before determining which herbs you would like to use when helping someone. 

Linden (Tilia europaea)

Heat/Excitation 

Heat/excitation occurs in the urinary system when excess nitrogenous waste products from protein metabolism heightens acidity in the tissues. In a vital response, your body triggers neural firings, elevates heart rate, and increases circulation to optimize detoxification and filtration. 

This hyperactivity generates heat in the kidneys, mucosal membranes, ureter, and urethra. Over time, this leads to pain, fever, infection, and blood in the urine. In this case, urine is often dark, malodorous, and hot upon elimination. Other signs and symptoms of heat in the urinary system include hot skin conditions, kidney stones or gravel, pain in the bladder, and tension. 

The remedies for heat/excitation urinary system infections are cooling and demulcent, thereby soothing irritation from hyperactivity. Some top herbs include Linden (Tilia europaea), Marshmallow (Althea officinalis), Hibiscus (Hibiscus spp.), and Couch grass (Agropyron repens). While each possess unique properties that make them different from each other, they are all cooling herbs that lessen irritation and possess varying levels of mucilage that grant them their demulcent qualities. 

Cold/Depression

With cold/depression, urine retention occurs in the bladder, which predisposes you to infection. Retention is likely due to weakness of the tissues and nerve impulses needed to trigger urination. Because the urine sits too long, it becomes heavy, mucoid, and difficult to pass. When kidneys are functionally depressed, they cannot filter blood well, which leads to systemic toxicity. Common expressions of cold/depression include systemic coldness, edema, a languid pulse, and poor circulation. 

Warming and stimulating herbs high in volatile oils are used to disperse a stagnant environment and increase activity in the organs and tissues. Main remedies include Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata), Buchu (Barosma crenata), Uva-Ursi (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), Juniper (Juniperus communis), Wild Carrot aka Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota), Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis), and Gravel root (Eupatorium purpureum).

Uva-Ursi (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)

Dry/Atrophy

When there is dry/atrophy in the urinary system, the kidneys are weakened and struggle to filter and clean the blood efficiently. This increases the potential for “bad blood” and stone formation due to precipitation from insufficient fluids and hydration. The dry/atrophy tissue state is often closely linked to nervous exhaustion as the nervous system does not receive adequate fats and oils to function optimally. Interestingly enough, the old doctors found that the formation of calcium oxalate stones (the most common of the three types of stones) was often due to neurasthenia, or nervous system exhaustion. With dry/atrophy, the bladder walls weaken and are prone to prolapse. There are often other signs of nervousness and tension, like a dry tongue with a weak pulse. 

Common remedies are mucilaginous demulcents and mineral-rich plants that nourish the nervous system. These include Marshmallow root (Althea officinalis), Couchgrass (Elymus repens), Plantain (Plantago officinale), Cornsilk (Zea mays), Cleavers (Galium aparine), Horsetail (Equisetum arvense), and Burdock (Arctium lappa).

Damp/Stagnation

Damp/stagnation typically develops in the urinary system when there is systemic toxicity in the liver, digestive system, heart, lungs, and lymphatic system. Because these systems are not working at capacity, the kidneys need to work extra hard to eliminate toxins from the body. This slows down kidney functioning since they need to process toxin-rich blood. 

There are often thickened mucous secretions in the bladder, swelling of the tissues, and an environment prone to infection. Symptoms include mucous in the urine, a tongue with a thick wet coat, and skin issues related to systemic toxicity. 

The remedies used for this tissue state are pungent and bitter herbs that circulate the congested fluids and purge them from the body. These include Dandelion leaf (Taraxacum officinale), Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata), Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), and Juniper (Juniperus communis).

Dandelion Leaf (Taraxacum officinale)

Damp/Relaxation

With damp/relaxation, the kidney tissues are lax and the renal tubules are less effective at reabsorbing plasma and fluids and reintroducing them to the bloodstream. This leads to an accumulation of fluids passing through the urinary system, which can cause tissue degradation and mental exhaustion as your body eliminates minerals excessively. As potassium storage is depleted, a sodium imbalance occurs, leading to high blood pressure and edema. This tissue state can lead to a weak atonic bladder and urinary leakage or dribbling. There may also be mucous secretions in the urine from excess moisture. The tongue will be moist and pulse weak and lax, skin pale.

The best remedies for damp/relaxation are mineral-rich herbs and astringents, like Horsetail (Equisetum arvense), Sumach (Rhus typhina or Rhus aromatica), Water Lilly (Nymphaea odorata– White Pond Lilly, or Nymphaea luteum– Yellow Pond Lilly), Sage (Salvia officinalis), Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), Agrimony (Agrimonia eupatoria), Cranesbill (Geranium maculatum), and Uva-Ursi (Arcotstaphylos uva-ursi).

Wind/Tension

Where there is wind/tension, the arteries that feed the kidneys are constricted, resulting in inefficient blood filtration and inhibited blood flow into the kidneys. Additionally, the smooth muscles around the tubules cramp and spasm in the presence of a stone, a vital response to squeezing out the precipitate. There is often straining when urinating with an inability to release the fluids. Symptoms will often come and go, as is standard to vata/wind type conditions, and feel better with warmth and pressure. The pulse will typically feel wiry and resistant. 

The best herbal remedies for this state are antispasmodic nervines like Kava-Kava (Piper methysticum), Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata), Crampbark (Viburnum opulus), Agrimony (Agrimonia eupatoria), and Wild Yam (Dioscorea villosa).

Sage (Salvia officinalis)

UTI Herbal Actions and Specific Indications 

The best all-around herb to use for UTIs is Uva-Ursi (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi). This plant contains a unique mechanism that occurs in the kidney and affects the entire urinary system. Upon ingestion, a constituent called arbutin passes through the kidneys and converts into a substance called hydroquinone, which is a broad-spectrum antiseptic compound with specificity for the urinary tract. 

Uva-Ursi (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) cools heat and inflammation commonly associated with UTIs and kidney stones. With its astringent effects, it tones an overly lax bladder and increases urination to prevent infection. Two other plants in the same family include Manzanita (Arctostaphylos manzanita) and Madrone (Arbutus menziesii).

These two herbs contain arbutin as well and provide similar benefits. The main difference between these three herbs is their level of strength. While Uva-Ursi  (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) is the mildest of the three, Manzanita (Arctostaphylos manzanita) is moderately strong and Madrone (Arbutus menziesii) is the strongest. Although there are instances where you might want to immediately go for the strongest medicine, this can also lead to irritation. In general, it is best to use the mildest option and move up from there as needed. For all three herbs, it is best to use them for short periods of time instead of prolonged periods. Uva-Ursi (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) is fairly easy to find in Northern America and is a popular and reliable remedy for UTIs.

Some other herbs indicated for UTIs include Oregon Grape root (Mahonia aquifolium), Juniper (Juniperus communis), Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), and Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata). These all work to fight infection in different ways. While Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium) contains berberine, Juniper (Juniperus communis) and Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) contain antiseptic essential oils that target the kidneys and urinary tract. It is important to be mindful of your intake of Juniper though, since it is a renal stimulant and can be too stimulating, especially in the case of acute kidney stones or heat/excitation patterns in the urinary tract. Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata) is a lymphagogue remedy that clears congestion in the pelvic region, making it an excellent herb for UTIs. There are many different herbs that you can use for UTIs. What matters most is identifying the one that fits your unique circumstance best. 

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Kidney Stone Herbal Actions and Specific Indications 

Kidney stones develop when your urine contains more crystal-forming substances, like oxalate, uric acid, and calcium, than the fluid in your urine can dilute. Additionally, your urine may lack the substances needed to prevent crystals from sticking together, creating the perfect environment for kidney stones to form. 

Once the stone is formed, it may stay in the kidney or travel down the urinary tract into the ureter. When they pass, they are often painful. If they become lodged, they can cause a back-up of urine in the kidneys, ureter, bladder, and urethra. There are four main types of stones: Calcium oxalate, uric acid, struvite, and cystine. Conventional medicine does not provide much insight towards what causes them or how to treat them. 

Kidney stones are difficult to treat and are excruciatingly painful to pass. They are stubborn and require time to fully resolve. I have had many clients with kidney stones, and while herbs provided relief, they were not enough to fully dissolve the stones or pass them. Many required lithotripsy, a procedure that sends focused ultrasonic energy or shock waves directly to the stone, while others required surgical removal. If kidney stones are left unaddressed, they can block the urinary pathway and cause serious health complications. Therefore, it’s the responsibility of each individual to determine what route they want to take to treat them. In some cases, further medical attention is necessary. However, there are many cases where a holistic herbal protocol is enough to move the stones and relieve pain. 

Antispasmodics

Kidney stones cause severe cramping in the lower abdominal region as the smooth muscles around the ureter and bladder spasm in an attempt to push the stone out. However, kidney stones are not smooth pebbles- they are like three-dimensional shards of glass. This means that each time your tissues clamp down, they press against these spiked formations, causing tremendous pain. 

Antispasmodic herbs help reduce these spasms and general tension, thereby providing pain relief. A specific remedy for kidney stones is Kava Kava (Piper methysticum), which has an affinity for the bladder and urinary tract. Aside from relaxing cramps and spasms, Kava (Piper methysticum)  lowers stress, anxiety, and tension that results from being in such pain, thereby providing emotional support throughout the process. Cramp bark (Viburnum opulus) is another good option, as are Wild Yam (Dioscorea villosa) and Lobelia (Lobelia inflata), which are excellent smooth muscle antispasmodics.

Lobelia (Lobelia inflata)

Vulneraries and Styptics

Since kidney stones are not flat, but rather like sharp geodes, passing them is incredibly painful and can cause abrasions and bleeding. Because of this, it’s important to use herbs that are wound healing and styptic to stop bleeding. The number one herb to use here is Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), which staunches bleeding, modulates inflammation, and possesses antiseptic essential oils that pass through the urinary tract. Overall, it possesses tremendous wound-healing effects. 

You may be able to see bleeding if there is a pink coloration to the urine. If the bleeding is heavy, use Shepherd’s Purse (Capsella bursa- pastoris) instead of Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) since this plant is a strong styptic with an affinity for the urinary tract. However, both work to stop bleeding. 

Demulcents

As kidney stones move through the urinary tract, they scrape and poke your sensitive tissues. Demulcents, like Marshmallow (Althea officinalis) or Slippery Elm (Ulmus fulva), coat the urinary tract lining with soothing mucilage that reduces any generated heat, irritation, and inflammation. The additional lubrication helps move stones along a bit easier and can be used to prevent abrasion and bleeding. 

These herbs are best prepared as a cool infusion since this temperature of water is most effective at drawing out the mucilage of the plant. Additionally, you are best off drinking these herbs as this medium ensures that the demulcent properties reach, cool, and coat your urinary tract. 

Antilithics

This action includes remedies that have been used in the treatment of kidney stones and their accompanying symptoms. There are a few different herbs touted for their ability to break stones. Although I have not personally achieved great results with them, this might have to do with the dosage or remedies I have used. The size of the stones may play a role as larger ones would be harder to break down than smaller ones. 

The main remedies used here are Chanca Piedra (Phyllanthus niruri), which is from South America and literally translates to stone breaker, Gravel Root (Eupatorium purpureum), and Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens). Gravel Root (Eupatorium purpureum) is mainly used in Western herbalism, dispels dampness, and is a reliable diuretic that takes solids that have precipitated out of fluid and re-dissolves them back into that fluid, thereby making it helpful for kidney stones and arthritic deposits in the joints. 

Nettle (Urtica dioica)

Diuretics

Diuretics increase the output of urine. Cleavers (Galium aparine) is one of my favorites since it soothes heat and irritation while supporting healthy lymphatic movement. Nettle (Urtica dioica), Dandelion leaf (Taraxacum officinale), and Corn silk (Zea mays) are three other reliable diuretics. Couch Grass (Elymus repens), is another nice option and is more demulcent than the others, making it an excellent remedy for irritated and inflamed tissues. 

The Best of Both Worlds 

If it is possible, collect a kidney stone sample and bring it to a lab. By doing so, you can have the sample analyzed for its mineral composition and receive greater insight into what might be causing you to have kidney stones. From there, you can make dietary and lifestyle changes to prevent them from forming again- which is always the best approach to health. 

When working with herbal medicine, it’s important to remain patient and give the process time. Kidney stones are not easy to treat, and their healing process can be frustrating for everyone, especially for the person suffering from them. With that said, kidney stones abrase the urinary tract as they pass and can lead to blockages. If left unattended, serious infection can occur. 

Kidney stones are serious and if you do not see significant improvements with your approach, you may need to consult a medical practitioner to discuss other options. Although holistic practitioners often turn away from conventional medicine, it provides miraculous and life-saving procedures that can save your life. If you are in pain, there is no reason not to reach out.

If you have doubts about your healing timeline, reach out to your healthcare provider to determine if medical intervention is needed and what therapies are available. In many cases, you can use herbs to facilitate healing while using modern procedures to break up and remove the stones and prevent further complications. 

Cleavers (Galium aparine)

Tips for a Healthy Urinary System

Water is the best medicine and drinking adequate amounts each day when you have kidney stones is of the utmost importance. It is best to take the herbs listed above in liquid form (such as an infusion) so that the medicinal properties of the plants can make it to the urinary tract. This method will also help you stay well hydrated throughout the day.

If you have taken antibiotics in the past or are considering taking them again, it’s critical that you supplement with a high-quality probiotic each day. Your flora is your first line of defense, and when it is eliminated, you become much more prone to infection in the future. By taking a probiotic, you can strengthen your flora and prevent this from happening. If you are prone to urinary tract infections, pay extra attention to personal hygiene, avoid vaginal products that disrupt the pH, and wear loose-fitting clothing and underwear to prevent bacterial growth.

In terms of diet, general recommendations include keeping sugar consumption and animal-sourced protein low. Although high protein diets are touted today, the source of protein matters considerably and can strain the kidneys due to the excess nitrogenous waste products produced from metabolism. Lastly, it’s important to avoid food allergens and coffee, as both make your kidneys work even harder than usual. 

Urinary infections affect all genders and people of every age. While the severity and pain will differ from person to person, you can gain tremendous insight into what causes them by using the tissue state model. 

Without the tissue state model, you might pick herbs willy-nilly based on their short descriptions. However, it’s easy to imagine that a hot herb will aggravate a hot condition and that a drying herb will make a dried-out urinary tract even more painful. With this system of energetics in place, you don’t need to guess. Instead, you can pick herbs confidently and see better results than ever.

The post Herbs for a Healthy Urinary System appeared first on The School of Evolutionary Herbalism.

 

Motherwort, the “lion-hearted herb,” fills your heart with courage and soothes its inner wounds. This herb tends to the physical and emotional heart and is an indispensable part of the Materia medica. With its many uses and simple administration techniques, this herb is sure to become a favorite herb to support a healthy heart. 

In this week’s blog post, you’ll learn:

  • What Motherwort tastes like this and how this translates to its effects on the body
  • This herb’s organ affinities, energetics, and herbal actions 
  • The emotional indications of Motherwort 
  • Motherwort’s astrological and alchemical correspondences 
  • How to prepare medicine at home using this herb
Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)

“There is no better herb to drive melancholy vapors from the heart, to strengthen it, and make a merry cheerful blithe soul, than this herb. . . therefore the Latins called it Cardiaca.” – 1652 Nicholas Culpepper 

Have you ever heard of Motherwort?

This herb’s Latin name is Leonurus cardiaca, which speaks volumes about its actions, uses, and specific indications. Known as the lion-hearted herb, Motherwort fills your heart with the courage and strength of the lion.

Although it has many biochemical constituents that strengthen your physical cardiovascular system, it supports the emotional and spiritual heart. This makes it a top-tier heart remedy for when emotional pain or anxiety impacts your heart health by leading to symptoms like an achy heart or even heart palpitations. 

Ready to learn more? Let’s begin.   

Common name: Motherwort

Latin name: Leonurus cardiaca

Botanical Family: Lamiaceae family (Mint)

Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)

Taste:

The taste of an herb gives you tremendous insight into its medicinal properties. In the case of this plant, Motherwort is bitter! Bitter herbs have an affinity for the digestive, nervous, cardiovascular, and female reproductive systems. While you might think that bitter receptors exist only on the tongue, you can find them spread throughout the body, in particular, the digestive, cardiovascular, and nervous systems. This means that when you take Motherwort, it impacts all three, albeit in different ways.  

In the digestive system, the bitter aspects of Motherwort stimulate the liver and gallbladder to increase bile production. Simultaneously, it increases gastric secretions to prime digestion. The bitter taste impacts your nervous system by generating a parasympathetic response due to the connection of the bitter receptors on your tongue and the vagus nerve. Lastly, it benefits your heart by reducing heat and irritation that occurs from hyperactivity. It also lowers cholesterol levels with its cholagogue and choleretic effects. 

Affinities: 

Motherwort has an affinity for the digestive system, liver, cardiovascular system (especially the heart and vascular system), nervous system, and female reproductive system, particularly the uterus. When a plant has an affinity for a specific organ or organ system, this means you will see many of its medicinal actions working specifically on these centers in the body. 

Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)

Energetics

Before herbs were classified by constituents, they were understood by three physiological categories: Temperature, moisture, and tone. Although knowing the chemical makeup of a plant is helpful, it’s important to reincorporate the knowledge of energetics alongside the chemistry, as this is how you receive indispensable insight into how plants affect the body.

Herbs are either warming or cooling, with the occasional neutral plant here and there. While warming plants increase activity and stimulate a specific organ or system, cooling herbs lessen hyperactivity. Since Motherwort is a cooling herb, it sedates excess heat from stress and anxiety. It also cools and draws the vital force down when heat from hyperactivity rises upward, such as getting overly heated, sweaty, or flushed.

Moisture is broken down into two categories, drying and moistening. While moistening herbs lubricate the mucosal membranes and supply the nervous systems with healthy oils, drying herbs drain fluid accumulation in the body. Bitter-tasting herbs that are cooling are typically drying, so this combination of bitter, cooling, and drying is quite common. 

The final category is tone, which categorizes herbs as either astringent or relaxant. Astringent herbs tone overly lax herbs and increase the structural integrity of the organ walls and systems. On the other hand, relaxant herbs decrease the tension stored in the tissues. Physiological and musculoskeletal tension are often linked. Motherwort covers both aspects by relaxing the nervous system with its nervine qualities and by decreasing hyper-tonic states of the tissues. 

Motherwort’s cooling, drying, and relaxant qualities impact the entire body, especially the cardiovascular, nervous, digestive, and female reproductive systems. These energetic building blocks of Motherwort serve as the foundation for understanding everything else about the plant. Before learning what a plant is “good for,” you need to know what its energetic properties are since these translate into every action of the plant to form a whole picture. 

“Old writers tell us that there is no better herb for strengthening and gladdening the heart, and that it is good against hysterical complaints, and especially for palpitations of the heart when they arise from hysteric causes.” – 1940 grieve’s herbal

Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)

Actions:

Motherwort is a cardiac nervine, nervine, emmenagogue, and bitter tonic. 

There are three main conglomerations of tissues in the body, also known as the “three seats of consciousness.” This includes gut-level instinct, heart perception, and intellect. Although many bitter plants have an action on the nervous system, each will act on a different seat of consciousness. 

As a cardiac nervine, Motherwort is a specific herb indicated for people who experience cardiovascular symptoms when they feel stressed, anxious, or upset. This might be sweating, high blood pressure, a rapid heartbeat, or heart palpitations. Motherwort is so effective for this pattern that it has become one of my favorite remedies

Motherwort is an emmenagogue remedy. This means that it stimulates blood flow and encourages the onset of menses. Motherwort is a great remedy for people who have just gone off birth control medication and want to regulate their menstrual cycle and for those who have amenorrhea and have “lost” their period for several months. It is so effective that taking a few drops during the month can cause an earlier onset of menstruation- a consideration worth taking into account before administering this herb. 

This herb is a bitter tonic, which means that it is cooling and sedates excess heat that can arise from stress or irritation, and ultimately damage the heart and cardiovascular tissue. The bitterness of Motherwort is also what lends it its emmenegogue effects since it draws the energy downward to stimulate blood flow.  

Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)

Alchemical Correspondences 

The Alchemical tradition provides you with a unique way of looking at plants. Through this lens, plants are classified by their correspondences to the archetypal forces of nature, such as the planets and elements. 

The planet that governs Motherwort is Venus. This is determined by Venus and Motherwort’s  strong affinity for the female reproductive system, menstrual cycle, and relaxant quality. Just as Venus embodies calm, relaxation, and the emotional heart, plants that possess these qualities often correspond to Venus. 

The astrological sign that correlates with Motherwort is Leo, hinted at by the plant’s Latin name, Leonurus cardiaca. Leo governs the heart and cardiovascular system. As a fire sign, patterns of excess Leo can lead to hyperactivity in the heart – something Motherwort balances. When you combine the planet and sign that corresponds to Motherwort, you get Venus in Leo, which can be translated as an herb that relaxes the heart. 

Leo is a fixed fire sign astrologically characterized by stability, solidity, and consistency. Motherwort possesses these effects on the heart and the entire body. When the heartbeat and cardiovascular system lack consistency, Motherwort anchors nervous energy and stabilizes an unsteady rhythm. This quality is seen in the female reproductive system as well, where it acts as an emmenagogue to encourage the onset of menstruation and regular menses. 

In terms of alchemical correspondences, Motherwort relates to the fire element. You can see this by the doctrine of signatures, such as the prickly thorns that surround the flowers and the leaves that look like the tongue of the flame, as well as its ability to cool patterns of excess heat. 

Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)

Emotional Aspects: 

Motherwort is a heart herb through and through. I always say that it works not only on the physical heart but on the emotional and spiritual one as well. If you look closely at this plant, you’ll see that the fuzzy and soft pink flowers are protected by thorns that become increasingly sharp as the growing season progresses. This doctrine of signatures reflects its action on the psycho-spiritual heart, as it heals the soft and “thorny” parts of your heart that have been weakened by hurt. The thorns can also be seen as a protective shield as they exude a clear sense of boundaries around the heart. 

This herb calms, strengthens, and restores the heart on the physical and emotional planes after a painful or traumatic event. Leonurus cardiaca, the lion-hearted one, instills a sense of inner strength and courage to face challenges. 

Motherwort anchors your energy and grants you a sense of groundedness. An indication of this plant is a red-tipped tongue, a pattern of “heart fire” that occurs when your thoughts spin out of control and lead to heat in the mind. Motherwort calms the heart and fills you with a sense of inner fortitude. 

Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)

Preparation: 

As mentioned earlier, this plant is bitter! Even the most seasoned herbalists have a hard time stomaching this herb in the form of an infusion. Because of its taste alone, Motherwort is best prepared as a tincture to increase compliance. 

To prepare a Motherwort tincture, use 60% alcohol when using the fresh leaves and 40% alcohol when using dry. Formulate using a 1:5 ratio, combining 1 gram of Motherwort with 5 ml alcohol. You can make it stronger by using a different ratio if you’d like, but I find that a 1:5 ratio yields an effective and potent remedy. Considering 30 drops to be a moderate dose, you can start with less and increase until you find the dosage that works best for you. Keep in mind that this might fluctuate depending on the severity of your symptoms. 

If you’ve never worked with Motherwort before, now is your chance to do so. With the information above, you can feel confident preparing a simple Motherwort tincture at home and feel its effects for yourself. While preparing a tincture, you can tap into your intention to infuse it with personal meaning and to strengthen and relax your physical, emotional, and spiritual heart. 

The post Motherwort: The Lion Hearted Herb appeared first on The School of Evolutionary Herbalism.

Your liver is responsible for metabolizing every waste product that your body produces, as well as everything you put into your body, good and bad. In this way, the liver is central to the health of the entire body, for it is a nutrient storehouse and makes sure everything stays pure and clean. When its functioning becomes affiliated, it can lead to a number of health concerns, both on the physical level and the psychological emotional levels. One of the most prevalent and disabling ones is headaches. By supporting your liver, you can resolve the very source that causes headaches and find long-term relief.

In today’s blog post, you’ll learn:

  • The liver’s function in the body
  • Two tissue states the liver is prone to
  • The connection between a stagnated liver and “liver heat rising”
  • Herbal categories to use to balance these tissue states
  • Specific herbs for liver heat
  • Dietary recommendations for a healthy liver
  • Emotional correspondences of the liver 
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

The liver. It’s responsible for processing every morsel of food you eat and metabolizing every waste product your body produces. As toxins in the world increase, it’s more important than ever that you know how to support it.

Liver disharmony is responsible for many common symptoms, such as moodiness, depression, anger, fatigue, and PMS, to name a few. However, the most commonly experienced symptom that plague people daily is headaches.

Headaches can range from a mild ache to debilitating pain that leaves you seeking shelter in bed with the lights off. Although you can use Advil and other NSAIDs to temporarily block the pain, their relief is only temporary. Unfortunately, the side effects they can lead to, such as compromised gastrointestinal health, can leave you with a whole new slew of painful symptoms to navigate.

Instead of putting out fires each time your head begins to ache, you can look at the source of this condition. By understanding the tissue states that lead to liver disharmony, and ultimately headaches, you can take herbs that restore it to health and make headaches a thing of the past. 

Liver Tissue States

Heat/excitation and damp/stagnation are the tissues states the liver is most susceptible to. Heat/excitation indicates that there is hyperactivity in the tissues and it typically features symptoms like inflammation, irritation, and sensations of pain and heat. Cooling bitters are indicated for this tissue state since they lower inflammation, alleviate pain, and reduce the activity to a normal pace. Damp/stagnation corresponds to the moisture level of a body and occurs when metabolic waste products congest a tissue or organ. Over time, this leads to toxicity and disease. Drying and alterative herbs are used to dry excess moisture and eliminate accumulated metabolic waste products and fluids.

Heat/excitation 

The first liver tissue state is heat/excitation, which can result when you regularly eat rich foods, as well as having a liver disease like hepatitis. Frequent snacking and eating means that your digestive system is always “on,” breaking down food, transporting the nutrients across the gut wall, portal vein and the liver. If you overeat (especially rich foods), your liver needs to work longer and harder to process and eliminate metabolic waste products. Over time, it becomes taxed and enters a state of hyperactivity to keep up. As this occurs, its demand for fresh oxygenated blood increases, and your hepatic artery dilates as a vital response to meet this need. While fine in the short-term, over time, the increased blood flow to the liver can heat it up and lead to a “hot liver.” 

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

The liver is a very metabolically active organ, and with this extra burden and blood flow, it can enter a state of overdrive and hyperactivity. Additionally, the widening of the hepatic artery and circulation to the core causes the blood to flow to the liver and away from the periphery, resulting in parasympathetic brain fog. As the blood flows to the center, it leads to a hot core and a cold exterior. This is where you will see symptoms like cold hands and feet, dull headaches, and pale skin despite a hot center.

To remedy this, you can use circulatory agents that redistribute the blood and equalize circulation by moving the blood out from the core and into the periphery. A classic remedy for this is Cayenne (Capsicum annuum), which North American doctors used to equalize circulation. If Cayenne (Capsicum annuum)  is too hot for you, Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is a less pungent alternative. While these herbs may seem counterintuitive since they’re warming herbs, they may help in some cases by helping to redistribute the flow of blood throughout the system. 

The second category of herbs you would use are bitter herbs, like Dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale), Artichoke (Cynara scolymus), Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium), and Blessed thistle (Cnicus benedictus). But it’s important to note that using mild bitters is best here, as most bitters will stimulate liver activity and function, as with this tissue state it’s already overstimulated. The main bitter remedy I would consider is Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) as it has a distinct inflammation modulating action. If the liver is inflamed for too long it will start to break down and show heightened enzyme levels on bloodwork. In this case, trophorestoratives like Milk Thistle (SIlybum marianum) and Schisandra (Schisandra chinensis) are indicated. 

Lastly, there is a pattern in Chinese medicine known as “liver fire rising.” Heat has to go somewhere, and when the liver has all this trapped heat in there for too long it needs to “vent” itself somehow. This venting of the liver results in a surging upwards force of heat that rises up into the upper portion of the body. The face flushes red, the head starts to pound, the neck gets tense, and there’s often a strong emotional release in the form of anger, frustration, and irritability. For this specific pattern of liver heat, you can use  “liver relaxants” can help to relieve the tension that can accompany a hot liver, as well as helping resolve the liver fire rising pattern. A few good remedies here are Peony root (Paonia spp.), Lavender (Lavandula angustifilia), and Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata).

Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata)

Damp/stagnation

The second liver tissue state is damp/stagnation, which occurs when the liver does not receive enough fresh oxygenated blood. When this happens, the liver becomes backed up with metabolic waste products and stagnates. As you continue to consume rich foods, it congests further, and the damp/stagnation pattern develops. As the waste products build up in the liver, inflammation and heat occur in an attempt to move the toxins out. This too can result in “liver fire rising” and symptoms like a red face, flushed skin, headaches, irritability, frustration, anger, and emotional outbursts. 

Remedies that balance this tissue state are bitter, cooling, and drying herbs that dry the dampness from the liver, draw the energy down from liver heat rising, and assist in the detoxification process, thereby decreasing liver heat and assisting in processing toxins. The same bitter herbs mentioned previously can be used here, with Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium) being especially cooling and drying. 

This pattern is basically the liver being unable to keep up with the demand placed on it. Bitter, damp draining alteratives facilitate the liver in performing its metabolic and detoxifying functions. This is where the stronger bitters can be used, as we don’t often have to worry about overstimulating the liver when it’s in an overly damp stagnant state. 

Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium)

Dietary Recommendations 

This blog post would not be complete without a word on diet. Diet is a personal and polarizing topic. Just put a vegan and a paleo in a room, and you will see how true this statement is. That said, some foods inherently congest the liver more than others, and it’s important to be aware of this if you want a healthy liver. Chinese medicine provides excellent guidelines that can help you eat in a way that supports your liver. 

In Chinese medicine, Liver qi stagnation occurs when the energy or qi of the liver system does not flow easily or as freely as it should. Liver qi can become blocked or slowed down as a result of stress and anxiety as well as dietary intake and practices. In the physiomedicalist tissue state model, Liver qi stagnation can express itself as heat/excitation or damp/stagnation and progress into liver heat rising. Dietary recommendations are similar for both, as the primary focus is on eating foods that promote liver harmony and do not overwhelm or tax it. 

Oily, fatty, and greasy foods, like deep-fried foods, should be avoided, as well as processed and heavy meats, especially red meat. Dairy, eggs, margarine, lard, nuts in copious amounts, refined sugars, and processed pastries also lead to liver qi stagnation. Lastly, while it may seem counterintuitive, excessively cold or refrigerated foods like ice cream, beer, raw salads, juices, and white wine stress the liver and leave you prone to hyperactivity and ultimately heat/excitation or damp/stagnation. 

Chinese medicine recommends a diet of grains, vegetables, legumes, and complex carbohydrates, and keeping high quality protein intake to 10%  to support liver harmony. Some examples are mung beans, lentils, and rice. Cooked vegetables are preferable over raw, and incorporating mildly pungent ones like onion, garlic, and radish assists in the digestion of heavy fats. Sour fruits in moderation are indicated, and a daily teaspoon of apple cider vinegar is recommended as well. 

Peppermint (Mentha X piperita)

Although you might want to reach for pungent foods and remedies, consuming these and stimulating drinks, like coffee, can make liver qi stagnation worse and progress into liver fire. Therefore, it’s best to consume these foods and drinks in moderation and instead aim for herbal beverages high in aromatic oils, like Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) and Peppermint (Mentha X piperita), to clear your liver of stagnation and help it run its processes smoothly. Drinking a daily tea like this pairs well with bitter remedies like Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum), and Dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale).

Some final principles from Chinese medicine include eating less at each meal, eating main meals earlier in the day, and avoiding late-night meals. It is recommended that you eat in a calm state and in a relaxing environment, and it goes without saying that you should avoid alcohol intake when following a liver support protocol*.   

Finally, intermittent fasting is one of the best dietary protocols to help restore an overburdened liver that’s working all the time. This essentially means that food is only ingested in a specific window of time, the rest of the day only water is taken. Some do a 12:12 pattern (12 hours fasting, 12 hours fed), 16:8 (16 hours fasting, 8 hours fed), etc. The point of this is that during the fasting stage, the liver is able to rest and the metabolism shifts to consuming stored energy resources in the liver to burn for fuel- most of which are fats. 

Emotional Harmony and Your Liver

The liver does a lot, and when it struggles to keep up, it will make itself known with moodiness and painful symptoms like headaches. Although you can use herbs alone to rejuvenate and harmonize your liver, it is important to remember that diet plays a huge role in supporting a healthy liver. That said, although diet is a common culprit for liver imbalance, it is not the only thing that can put it to the test.

Liver health can be disrupted by emotional stress, anxiety, and stuck or pent-up emotions. In this way, it can be understood as not only the organ that filters out and processes physical toxins, but emotional ones too. Incorporating practices into your life that help you let go of emotions go a long way towards reducing headaches and a healthy liver. Tai Chi, Qi Gong, swimming, meditating, kickboxing, therapy, and whatever else helps you let go of emotions in the body all do the job. The key emotional correspondence to the liver is the more fiery ones, such as anger, frustration and irritability. It’s kind of a chicken and the egg question… did the emotional patterns lead to the liver issue or vice versa? It’s probably different for different people, but the connection is clear and regardless of which came first, attending to the emotional side in a healthy way is important. 

The golden rule comes down to this: Eat a liver-harmonizing diet, take herbs to support it, and invest time into releasing your emotions in healthy ways. Your liver will thank you for it.

 

*https://www.shenspace.ca/foods-to-ease-liver-qi-stagnation-i-e-stress

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