Monday, April 15, 2013

Quick Notes on Herbs for Grief and Fear

This winter, when a student of mine died in a fire, I put together these notes for my class.

I offer them now, rough and quick as they are, for all in Boston who are feeling grief and fear in the wake of today's explosions.

Please remember that plants are allies in healing but are not substitutes for psychotherapy or for ceremony in the process of healing the mind and heart -- as you move through deeper dimensions of pain and trauma you will need skilled support.

Be careful and conscious in the way you manage the influx of media information.   It is good to be well informed, and having accurate information is important to establish a sense of safety.  But also be aware that repeated exposure to the same traumatic stories and images has a cumulative effect.

Above all be kind and gentle to each other and yourselves.

And also remember the deep healing to be had just by being present to the beauty of the living world, human and wild.


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As I am writing this, Cedar and Douglas Fir are drying in the kitchen for incense, their scents filling the apartment, and there is ocean water on the table in front of me to take in some of the grief moving through.  

RESPONDING TO IMMEDIATE TRAUMA

Bleeding Heart -- Dicentra formosa when given during a time of acute crisis will help to calm shakiness and fear.  I give 2-5 drops of the tincture generally.   Once the body has settled out of immediate shock and panic, the medicine works differently -- helping to bring the tears you have been holding back flowing to the surface.  A beautiful gift, but one to be received when you are in a place where its safe and right to let the tears flow.

Pasque Flower --Anemone pulsatilla, Anemone patens, Anemone tuberosa, etc. will help someone when intense grief or terror come on suddenly, as if brought in by an ill wind.  Think of the downy hairs on the flowers and leaves as a signature for being that kind of soft, warm blanket.   Contraindicated when there is a strong, forceful pulse or a lot of redness is the face.   2-5 drops.

Ghost Pipe -- Monotropa uniflora -- When pain, physical or emotional, is so intense as to overwhelm a person completely, Ghost Pipe helps to regulate sensory gating so that the pain is processed differently - the person will still be aware of the pain, but will feel, as one of my clients said, "as if everything I was worried about was taken outside of me and put in front of me where I could see it and work with it."   I initially give 3 drops, but some people less sensitive to the medicine will require 30.

Skullcap, as a smoke, a tea, or a tincture can be administered liberally to help bring calm in an intense situation.

Wood Betony (Stachys betonica) helps to anchor a person in the physical body after a traumatic event.

NOURISHING AND SETTLING THE HEART

In Chinese medicine, a person's emotional self is connected with a spirit called Shen, and the heart is sometimes envisioned as a clay vessel that stores the Shen.  When the vessel is shaken, the Shen becomes scattered and disturbed -- which is marked by insomnia, restlessness, irritability, emotional upheaval, and decreased attention span.

Schizandra and Reishi are both used traditionally to settle and nourish the Shen, and I find they combine together wonderfully to support the emotional heart through difficult times.  Both also support the liver, aiding with the processing of difficult emotions.    Both are also adaptogens, helping the body to regulate its response to continual stress.  I will give both liberally, though some caution is advisable when giving Schizandra to people who are on dose dependent medications that are processed through the liver.

Hawthorn helps to nourish, cool, and repair the heart and blood vessels.  Its berries feed the heart, its leaf and flower bring lightness and relaxation to the cardiovascular system, and its thorns provide protection.   I tend to use the berries and flowers together in equal proportions in a tincture or an infusion which I will give liberally -- and if I am harvesting the medicine myself I will add a few thorns.  Thorns can also be carried as talismans for protection.   The flowers make a beautiful bath.    Use caution with internal use with anyone on beta blockers, as Hawthorn may potentiate them. 

Motherwort calms and protects the heart, especially when there is anxiety driven by unsettled emotion.   It combines really beautifully with Passionflower when emotional anxiety is driving circular thinking and creating insomnia.

MOVING GRIEF

Aromatic plants help to move emotions and energies -- hence their use as smudges and ceremonial incense around the world.

Our own Western Red Cedar has been one of my closest allies in moving through grief this past week.  Walking in the forest, I feel its boughs bending to brush away my sadness.  I have been burning Cedar as a smudge as well.   Other evergreens bring similar medicine.

Monarda spp. are used in the Muskogee Creek tradition to clear the ways in which death hangs over and clings onto the living.   I have been taking baths with Monarda this week.

Sweet smelling aromatic plants like Sweetgrass and Cottonwood and Rose help to remind the heart and the spirit of the sweetness and beauty of the world after intense tragedy.   They can also open the heart to bring tears and pain to the surface so they can move out.   But it is important to have a space of emotional safety and support when working with them in these ways.

BRINGING BACK JOY

The bark of the Mimosa tree -- Albizia julibrisin - known as "collective happiness bark" in China -- helps to restore the ability to feel joy after the heart has been broken.  30-60 drops/day

Gentle joy tonics include Linen blossoms -- Tilia spp.,  Lavender, and Lemonbalm.   They bring a soft lifting of worry and a subtle return of brightness to the heart.

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