It’s one thing to get caught up in the physiological, phytochemical, and biological side of herbal medicines. If you work with herbs long enough and study hard enough, all of those things are eventually very tangible, trackable and predictable. Western medicine really likes trackable and predictable medicines, as do most people; it gives a sense of security and comfort to know how and why something works because, obviously, when you’re ill and want to feel better, you want to know what you’re taking actually works.
But there’s more to the body than just health or illness, and more to the person than just physiology. With every person comes a health story, and often deeply engrained in ones health story (not to mention every day life) there is quite a bit of emotional ups and downs. Every day we have an underlying sense of emotion – for our jobs, families, partners, seasons, friends, hobbies, diet, circumstances and even body image. Quite often, we get stuck in a rut with our lives, and emotional habits are hard to break. Now granted, some emotions that are considered “unpleasant” like guilt, depression, grief or anger can be a perfectly natural reaction to a particular life circumstance and not something that really needs to be “fixed”, but rather just allowed to let it pass. Once we acknowledge what emotion is lingering, (and if we even want to adjust it at all), that’s when herbs can play a supportive role in being strong allies for our emotional health.
Along with their therapeutic role in supporting overall health and disease imbalance, herbs have this awesome underlying “energetic” aspect that touches on emotional states that is much less tangible than, say, xyz herb’s effect on hypothyroidism. This is something that you get to know in a plant after you’ve been friends/allies for a while. Or have a close relationship with while growing up. Or have sat with in their natural habitat for some time. Or, in my case, used in a clinical capacity with lots of people over time. I’ve noticed that several herbs have a profound ability to not only be supportive for an imbalance, but affect the person’s emotional health so positively that it is a clear factor in helping them overcome an illness completely. Here are a few of my favorites:
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium): Yarrow derives it’s name from the Greek hero, Achilles. Legend has it that when Achilles was a baby, his mother bathed him in yarrow bath water to cover him in strength, however she missed his ankles (where she was holding him) and thus his heel was his weakness forever. True to the legend, Yarrow has always been an herb that instills strength and vibrancy, and when used daily as a tea or tincture (and even still, if you like to believe, as part of a bath ritual) it instills a sense of physical and emotional strength to the consumer. I often use this if someone is presenting as hopeless, desperate or depleted in physical and emotional vigor.
Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca): This is typically an herb that is used for issues surrounding the nervous system or the uterus, however as its botanical name (cardiaca) suggests, it also has affinity for the heart space. It’s a perfect remedy for people who get really really nervous before performing or speaking in public (when the heart starts racing so fast you feel like people can see it bouncing out of your chest). Or for people who carry a general sense of anxiety or nervousness that presents as a fluttery or skipped heart beat. I’ve also seen it work it’s heart magic on people who carry a lot of grief or sadness (for family or loved ones, specifically) in their heart to lighten the load.
Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum): This is like my ultimate Hug-In-A-Cup. Holy Basil is naturally uplifting, moving and warm, and ideal for when I feel my inner Eeyore raging. Holy Basil (also knows as Tulsi) is perfect for celebratory occasions as it is so uplifting to the spirit, as well as being adaptogenic (and a gentle energy tonic). The entire plant is highly honored in India and used in countless rituals and ceremonies. This is my ideal herb for despondent folks who just can’t get motivated into things that make them happy (like Eeyore, remember that ‘ol grump?) Feeling spiritually murky, lost and disconnected? Try Tulsi! Perfect for the lingering winter blues, too. And tea, I think, is the best way to take this spiritual herb (I love the Tulsi from Organic India).
Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora): I may talk about Skullcap with the same affection that I talk about my puppy. Or my partner. Or my mom. I love Skullcap. I think it saved my life in grad school. Originally I started taking it for debilitating anxiety induced IBS symptoms (which it’s also amazingly effective for), but I found that it not only provided an anxiolytic effect on the gastrointestinal tract, it also was an emotional lifesaver for when I was feeling overwhelmed, overworked and just plain unhappy and scared. I’ve used it dozens of times with people in similar situations, and most especially for people who feel overexposed in a big and busy world – like the world is too bright, too loud and too busy for them and they’re feeling very vulnerable. This is especially useful for the person with sensitive skin and is hypersensitive to pain/physical stimuli on the surface and sensitive to the emotions of their environment. If you’re seeking a warm, dark hideaway, skullcap is for you (and while you’re at it, grab your mom and a teddy bear, too).
Lavender (Lavandula spp): Sweet and aromatic, lavender. These light and colorful little buds are just so joyful and, like Motherwort, have a special affinity for the heart, but for different reasons. There’s loads of things that go on with the heart – jealousy, love, longing, fear of abandonment and, most notably for lavender: Grief. Grief is usually an emotion that our culture does not allow time to explore and sit with. And some people I’ve seen have been literally grieving for years. Lavender is the perfect remedy for those who grieve the loss of something: the death of a loved one, a child going off to college, a relationship that has ended, a house that is being left behind. This supports the process of the loss and softens the grief without getting rid of it.
It’s best, I think, to find your herbal allies for emotional health by just trying things over and over again and getting a sense for how they sit in your body. And, as an extra jolt of excitement, I will be adding some speciality tea blends to my online shop here very soon which utilize most of these herbs! Be sure to check back in a few days when they make their online debut!
I would love to hear your experience with emotional support using herbs. What have you used that I didn’t mention?