Herbs for the Heart and Soul Because 2020

It is probably safe to say that 2020 threw everyone a curveball. Nobody envisioned that this new decade would take the trajectory it has taken. So heavy. So fast. So suddenly. We are reeling between what was inevitable, necessary, and what is difficult and uncomfortable to confront. And yet, we all understand that to heal, we must confront the inner depths of our soul where we are oft to store away the traumas and experiences that are too difficult to bear. We must look back at how we got here and what role we played in this fate. We cannot simply continue to treat the world’s issues as though they are someone else’s problem. It is time that we all opened our eyes wide and realized that everything is connected. The web of existence does not weave itself in isolation and once the thread starts to unravel, we come to accept that our experience is intertwined with that of everyone and everything else on this planet. 

Indeed just as we cannot heal our bodies by treating isolated symptoms or organs devoid of the wholeness of our being, we too cannot treat the issues we confront in isolation from the wholeness of this web of existence. While it may be tempting to ignore issues that do not directly impact us, we are really just feeding the trauma by refusing to let it heal. It festers beneath the surface of bandaid fixes and jovial illusions that with time, it will all just be banished into a distant memory. And yet, it never does. Systems of oppression are perpetuated and the status quo stomps on those who stand up to try to challenge it. 

As humans, we have amazing adaptability and coping mechanisms. Our bodies will react to imbalances to try to bring everything back into balance. Homeostasis is a dance for survival, though that survival may come at a cost down the line as some bodily functions work overtime to make up for those that need the support. Communities likewise adapt in order to survive but eventually, those traumas will surface down the line and the only way to bring everything back into nature’s balance, is to confront it and heal it head-on. Healing the planet is collective work. There is no sheltering from it. Just as there is no sheltering from viruses and bacteria and other life on this planet. We need to figure out how to work together to live in harmony with the earth and her gifts, of which we are a part. We cannot be taken out of the equation, just as we cannot eliminate viruses and other life forms from the equation try as we might.

Healing the planet is part and parcel of healing ourselves. We have managed to create divisions at every level, hierarchies wherever we can, a legacy imposed on us by the very capitalist system in which we are so entangled to the detriment of so much else. This is the work. The healing work that so many of us are called to in all of its forms. And before we begin to talk about the amazing herbal allies that may carry us through these times, we must recognize that this field also continues to perpetuate a legacy of oppression for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color), seldom crediting how much of this knowledge came to be and how extractive the history actually was and continues to be. BIPOC are on the fringes of trendy herbal, plant, and farming practices and continue to fight for a voice in this space that was once their domain. So, let the plants heal your heart. But also, do the work of healing the collective wounds and let us all heal together for the sake of the greater good. 

The good news is that we all hold solutions for righting wrongs and even if you are not, or do not feel, directly responsible for those wrongs. The solution can be multifaceted. It can begin with healing yourself, your family, your community, and seeing that work spiral out into the larger world. Let plants show you how life can be beautiful, powerful, and healing and how you too can coexist with your environment harmoniously. Let them show you that diversity is epic and necessary for life. Let them show you how to overcome the ego and tune in to the phases and cycles of life. Let them show you how to live and die. How to root down and cooperate with other life forms. Let them then hold you and your heart because this is hard work and we cannot do it alone.

Some of my favorite herbs for the emotional heart include Rose, Hawthorn Berry, Motherwort, St. John’s Wort, and Mimosa. Any type of medicinal plant that has an affinity for the heart will have a nervine effect. Nervousness, anxiety, and the like that are oftentimes due to mental or psychological and nervous system excess. And as soon as we move from the head into the heart, we feel a distinct shift in the functioning of the nervous system—the parasympathetic nervous system becomes more active and we become more calm, relaxed, centered, and collected. There are many ways to heal with plants. Simply sit with them, meditate and breathe them in. We all know what smelling a rose can do for our nervous system. Make teas, tinctures or bathe with them. Grow them. There are really so many ways to heal in nature and each way is unique and perfect.

Rose (Rosa rugosa)- There is a physiological reason that roses have been the ideal gift to express love and forgiveness for thousands of years. They literally soothe the heart and emotions, ease mental and emotional agitation and nourish the nervous system. Rose helps you feel tenderness and compassion for yourself and others. This gentle herb opens the heart, and with an open heart comes feelings of joy and gratitude. And with gratitude, we can expand our heart space to let in more light and compassion. 

Hawthorn berry, flower, and leaf (Crataegus oxycanthoides, C. monogyna) – Hawthorn is a tropho- restorative or food for the heart and circulatory system. It is able to revitalize the whole cardiovascular system and has been used to regulate heart rhythm in cases of arrhythmia and tachycardia, and helps to slowly rebuild the heart in cases of degenerative heart disease. By helping to dilate the arteries it can improve blood flow to all parts of the body. This little shrub is a good friend to people with poor circulation. Hawthorn can heal not only the physical heart but the emotional one as well. It can open your heart to give and receive more love. Who couldn’t use a little of that? This thorny yet gentle-acting plant also helps to soothe a heart filled with sorrow, regret, or grief. Pretty perfect for these times.

Motherwort herb (Leonurus cardiaca) – Motherwort or Leonurus cardiaca is in the mint family. It’s a bitter mint plant that is a unique remedy because it is a very bitter nervine. In the mint family, there are aromatic plants that are carminative, and there are also bitter plants that are distinctly sedative for the nervous system. Motherwort is in that latter category. While nervines tend to calm and sedate and relax the nervous system, there are distinct areas of the body with a large concentration of neural tissue, and some herbs have more of an orientation for those nerve centers. These main centers include the brain, the heart, and the gut. Motherwort is also of benefit for labile (white coat) hypertension. Anytime you are anxious, upset, angry, or nervous, your blood pressure goes up. Motherwort, along with Fresh Oat, Reishi mushroom, and Rhodiola, can help to moderate stress and the rise in blood pressure that for many people comes with it.

Safety Issues: Avoid use in pregnancy 

St. John’s wort flowering tops (Hypericum perforatum) – In the ancient herbals, St John's Wort is recommended for “nervous griefs”, melancholia, nerve pain, and numbness. In clinical practice, herbalists still use this wonderful plant for all of these conditions and more. 

Drug Interactions: St. John’s wort is well-known for enhancing liver detoxification, which reduces blood levels of many medications. Do not take St. John’s wort with Warfarin, Digoxin, Protease inhibitors, anti-organ transplant rejection drugs (cyclosporine), and chemotherapy agents (irinotecan). Use caution when taking this herb with contraceptive pills. Only use Hypericum with SSRI’s under a physician’s supervision.

Mimosa bark (Albizia julibrissin) – is called He Huan Pi in Chinese medicine, which means “collective happiness bark”. In Chinese tradition, it is used for disturbed shen symptoms, including bad dreams, irritability, anger, depression, and poor memory. It is indicated (along with Hawthorn berries and Rose petals), for “broken hearts”, grief and deep sadness. 

Safety Issues: Avoid using Mimosa bark during pregnancy.

Tea for the Heartspace 

Here is a recipe I love to make when my heart needs uplifting.

Ingredients:
3 tablespoons Rose Petals
1 tablespoon Motherwort
1 tablespoon Hawthorn Berry and Leaf
1 tablespoon Mimosa Flower
1/2 teaspoon each cardamom and cinnamon
Directions:
Combine herbs and add to a quart mason jar.
Pour 8 ounces of water at 195 degrees to mixture.
Steep for 10 minutes before straining.
Sweeten as desired, drink, and enjoy 2-3 cups a day!

For more resources on dealing with anxiety, read our three-part blog series on this topic. Here is part 1. You will find more herbs and resources for dealing with times such as these. And while you are tending to your heart, please do not forget that we are also still dealing with Covid-19 and that the best thing you can do to defend yourself is to be at optimal health before anything happens. So check out our offerings for immunity and stay safe everyone! 2020 is heavy, unpredictable but may just be the beginning of our collective healing work.