It should come as no surprise that plants classified as possessing healing and medicinal properties (herbs!) are also capable of offering emotional support. I’ve listed five herbs that are helpful during grief and the stress, anxiety and depression that often accompanies our experience of loss, but there are many other herbs that have a similar effect. When viewing this list keep in mind that an herb is not one thing for one use but rather a dynamic organism with effects greater than the sum of its parts, with 200 plus compounds that work in concert to effect a change. I say this because the first herb on my list is Hawthorn and I can already hear someone saying, “but Hawthorn is for hypertension” or, “wait, I though Hawthorn was hypotension”. It is. And it is also supportive in times of grief.
1. HAWTHORN BERRY, LEAF and FLOWER (Crataegus species)
Hawthorn has been pigeonholed as “the blood pressure herb”, but more broadly it is an herb that is tonic to the heart organ itself. A tonic nourishes, restores, invigorates and supports an organ or organ system. Aside from pumping blood, the heart serves as an endocrine organ. Energetically and poetically, it is understood as the seat of love and therefore grief. We speak of being broken-hearted and science confirms the existence of “broken heart syndrome”, a documented reaction to grief that swells one of the heart’s four chambers and can be fatal. Enter Hawthorn, an herb that provides integrity to the organ’s very tissue. Nourishing and balancing, it gives strength and comfort, maintaining pace and endurance. This strength is reflected energetically as well, bringing a sense of calm and sufficiency. It’s interesting that in the U.S., the berry is used for medicine. In Europe those berries are used for jam and instead it’s the leaf and flower that are made into remedies. Just to cover my bases, I blend all the three parts. Use as a tincture or tea.
2. LEMON BALM (Melissa officinalis)
It seems I talk about Melissa all the time. I wrote about it in my last newsletter, too. Its ability to lift the spirit and promote cheerfulness makes it an excellent herb for times of grief. Melissa promotes a willingness to shift perspective and this may offer an opportunity to nudge sorrow to appreciation, or despair to tribute. Melissa is easy to grow, and can be used fresh or dry, in tea or tincture. Try it over ice.
3. MOTHERWORT (Leonurus cardiaca)
I think of Motherwort as a “last straw” herb. I’ll explain. The perfect setting for using Motherwort is when responsibilities, preoccupations and the need to get things right all gang up and lead to palpitations, “nervous nausea” and tension in the chest. It’s a hypersensitive scenario where one last straw will unleash a big crying jag. There, in that space, Leonurus cardiaca (“lion-hearted”) will diffuse that tension, calm anxiety and help the body/mind to re-set. Physiologically it does this by relaxing constraint in the body’s smallest vasculature, reducing pressure and allowing flow. Emotionally it welcomes grief to flow through rather than building up tension and brings a welcome sense of release. Times are still tough, but the overwhelm can be endured. Motherwort has a bitter flavor, so mix with another flavorful herb such as Holy Basil. Use as a tea or tincture.
4. HOLY BASIL (Ocimum sanctum)
Cousin to our culinary sweet basil, Holy Basil is also known as tulsi, a sacred plant in Hindu belief. Holy Basil, like Motherwort, is an herb for a time of overwhelm, but where Motherwort’s effect is focused on the cardiovascular system, Holy Basil has its axis in the psychoneurological system. One of its effects is to raise the stress threshold, helping us to integrate feelings that are initially overwhelming. Many studies have confirmed the anti-stress effect of this herb as well as its ability to reduce the damaging effects of stress. Systems of healing that correlate herbs to chakras link Holy Basil to the throat and heart chakras, facilitating the ability to articulate formerly unspeakable pain, confusion and/or anxiety. Holy Basil is easy to grow, even in Tucson, and the tea has a delicious warm, spicy flavor. Use as a tincture or an infusion (leaves steeped but never boiled). Combine with other supportive herbs such as Oatstraw, Skullcap or green tea.
5. ST JOHN’S WORT (Hypericum perforatum)
Another herb that has been pigeonholed, St. John’s Wort is often thought of only for depression. Anti-viral and specific to nerve tissue pain, St. John’s effects are far more complex, finding a place in formulas for shingles, post-surgical pain and various neuralgias. That said, yes, it is quite effective in dispelling low mood and mild to moderate depression. In the grief process, it may be useful when there’s a sense of a need to move on, when a person is exhausted by their grief. St. John’s Wort is best used as a fresh plant, either as a tincture or in a capsule containing dehydrated tincture. Caution: St. John’s Wort has an axis in liver function and as such is often contraindicated for use alongside some pharmaceuticals. Consult with your health practitioner before using this herb together with a prescription medication.
Class: Herbalism for Self-Care
I'm teaching this CEU class once again at the Tucson Massage CE Institute, November 18th. Class size is limited to 6 students to provide space for social distancing. Licensed Massage Therapists can earn 6 CEUs by attending. Visit tucsonceu.com for more information and to register.
During stressful times, remember that plants can help.
Herbalist & Owner, La Yerberia Botanicals