I often write about specific medical conditions and the natural treatments that can help overcome them. However, I’m constantly reminded that the physical aspect of ‘dis-ease’ is only ever part of the picture.
I’m lucky to have these reminders in the form of inspiring and intuitive patients, who come back after only a couple of weeks and say “Wow, what did you give me? I feel completely different.”
In most cases, two weeks is too short a time in which to notice the ‘physical’ effects of a herbal prescription. These patients may still have a few of their original symptoms - but they feel… better.
They might feel more relaxed, less angry, or have a clearer sense of the ‘big picture’. Usually they feel more empowered. After many months of darkness, they might finally be able to see ‘a light at the end of the tunnel’.
These kinds of patients have usually been through the greatest ordeals in terms of loss, grief, recovery and rediscovery. Typically they’ll have physical symptoms - digestive problems, high blood pressure, an irregular heartbeat, thyroid illness, acne - which can be traced back to a specific stressful or traumatic period in their lives.
Sometimes they’ll be eager to tell me this, but often we’ll need to dig deeper to uncover an awareness of this connection between their physical and emotional/mental/spiritual selves.
In some cases the need for emotional support will be more obvious - for example, depression due to the loss of a loved one. Either way, herbal medicines have the opportunity to shine.
The wonderful thing about herbal medicines is that they act on many different levels. Let’s talk about Motherwort, for instance - Leonurus cardiaca - a herb I prescribe almost every day.
Being a bitter herb, Motherwort makes you salivate and stimulates stomach acid production - in other words, it can provoke instant bodily reflexes.
It also has a more lasting physiological effect on the heart, nervous system and female reproduction. It slows a racing heartbeat, regulates an erratic pulse and brings down blood pressure. It calms the nerves and relieves tension in the pelvic area, helping with PMS and painful periods.
Being a traditional heart herb, Motherwort also acts on the emotions. It gives courage and strength to those going through periods of transition - for example, becoming a mother or losing a loved one.
I find it most useful where a person’s sense of identity has been challenged and this has left them feeling vulnerable - Motherwort shields them from harm’s way like a protective matriarch and enables them to come to terms with whatever has happened.
These emotional aspects of a herb’s effects are said to be the ‘energetics’ of a plant. There are many other herbs whose energetics I couldn’t do without in my practice.
Damask Rose (Rosa damascena)
Rose makes its way into every prescription where grief, bereavement or loneliness of some form are part of the picture. It has a specific affinity for the heart - the seat of emotions in the body - and helps cultivate a renewed sense of self-worth after traumatic life events. Like a “hug in a bottle”, it calms the nervous system, allays anxiety and self-judgement.
Hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata)
The number one herb for “heartbreak”, Hawthorn protects and strengthens the heart from both a physical and energetic perspective. Its spiky thorns provide a firm line of defense for those who feel vulnerable or emotionally fragile. This herb is especially effective in combination with Motherwort and/or Lily of the Valley for an irregular heart rhythm caused by stress, trauma, grief or loss.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Another herb for the cardiovascular system, Rosemary stimulates the circulation, improves memory and lifts the spirits. Energetically, it helps those who have been through cruelty or betrayal of some kind to forgive and release feelings of bitterness. A traditional herb of remembrance, rosemary helps remove bad memories and opens the heart to love and joy.
A word on grief
While I use these herbs almost every day to help my patients work through their emotions, I always recommend professional psychological support where necessary, especially following the death of a loved one.
Lifestyle measures such as meditation, breathing or relaxation techniques can also help - but most of all, I recommend maintaining a strong social support network, and reaching out to those near to you.
Wood, M. (2016) The Earthwise Herbal Repertory. North Atlantic Books: California.
Brooke, E. (1992) A Woman’s Book of Herbs. The Women’s Press: London.