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.
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.
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
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.