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Embodied Rituals for Skin + Soul

Filtering by Tag: Chinese Medicine

Herbs for Stagnant Anger

Katie Gordon

You know how anger can live in your body? How that smoldering heat can take up residence for so long that you can physically feel it? Stuck, hot, fiery, like you're living in a pressure-cooker? That, my friends, is stagnant anger. Stagnancy means energy isn’t moving. When energy isn’t moving, our body-mind-soul doesn't function optimally. In Chinese Medicine, anger is related to the liver, energetically and physically. To put it simply, when you're feeling overwhelmed and stressed out, the liver gets overwhelmed and stressed out. The liver is responsible for the smooth flow of energy, and when it's stressed out, you think it works smoothly? Answer: Nope.

With a stressed out liver, energy stagnates EVEN MORE and anger, along with poor digestion, allergies, and compromised stress response, among other things, often manifests. It's like a hot mess negative feedback loop. This isn’t to say that anger is a direct result of liver stagnation. There are a gazillion things that can cause us to feel angry. However, emotions are energy and supporting your liver with herbs (as well as movement, finding healthy ways to express anger, etc.) can help move that stagnant energy because if energy isn’t flowing freely, you're left feeling stuck emotionally, physically, and even mentally.

So here's a few of my favorite plants to help move stagnant anger. Think cooling, sedating, calming...

This is in no way an all-inclusive list. Keep in mind everyone’s body responds differently to plants. It’s best to experiment with how your body experiences various herbs. Take your time to develop relationships with these plants. Explore what really nourishes you. Listen to the plants themselves and get curious about how to interact with them.

Bitters: Bitters are cooling. Why? I actually don't know. But they are, and the liver loves them. Happy liver = smooth flow of liver qi/energy = less energetic & emotional stagnation (Yes, that's a hugely simplified version of a much more extensive discussion on liver energetic and physiological function. I'm sure I'll talk about bitters in the future A LOT because we should all be using them way more than we do, but for now you get the idea.)

Motherwort: Also bitter. Very bitter. I don't recommend straight motherwort tea if you actually like to enjoy your cup of tea. But as a tincture it's fabulous. It is, among other things, a nervine and antispasmodic, meaning it both acts on the nervous system and relaxes tension. Muscle spasms and tension are often a symptom of a stressed out, stagnant liver. Motherwort moves that constraint. Another beautiful thing about Motherwort is its effect on the heart and the connection it reveals between the heart and liver. Mainly the anger that results at feeling unable to express our hearts, our emotions, our freedom, our creativity, our individuality, and our deep voice. The anger of feeling unheard, unseen, and even unvalued.

Rose: One of my absolute favorite plants in the world for overheated tissues! Now, there are lots of reasons for tissues in our bodies to build up heat, but one of the big ones is anger. When this heat has no where to go (because we don't express it in a healthy, productive way), it stagnates. Cooling, sedating, Rose speaks my language. Considered a relaxant nervine, Rose relaxes the nervous system, and in particular, it works beautifully to relax the liver, relieving stagnation and tension in the liver. I find it works wonders for people experiencing nervous exhaustion and adrenal fatigue as a result of too much heat. I think what I really love about Rose is the sweet, heady, wild, and thorny aspects all combined into one plant. Rose is tough yet compassionate, resilient yet tender, tenacious yet she invites you to soften your edges, set down your sword, and explore those parts of yourself you so staunchly defend.

Lemon: Also cooling, sedating, and sour, lemon has become well known as something we squeeze into our water in the morning to get our digestion moving. Cooling and sedating plants cool and calm hot, irritated tissues as well as a hot, irritated mood. You know that rising heat we feel when we're angry? Our chest and face get hot, we probably start sweating and in cartoons steam comes out of the character's nose? Lemon, especially when blended with other deliciously cooling, sedating herbs like rose and salvia (see below) can help to cool and ground that rising heat.

Salvia: Native species of Salvia, particularly when paired with nervines like lemon balm, lavender, salvia (aka sage) can cool, ground, and shift that fiery energy because it’s a stimulant. Stimulants move stuff around. My personal favorite to use is White Sage (Salvia apiana), which in terms of herbal energetics can be heating or cooling depending on who you ask. This is the reason why it’s really best to experiment with how your body experiences plants. For me, this plant clears heat, stimulates movement (of energy, digestion, tension, fluids, blood, etc.), and grounds me into the present moment.

Of course these plants will support the movement of energy, but what most of us also need to do is learn how to experience, feel, process, and express our anger. But that's for another post.

Here's a recipe for a tea blend to help move some of that stagnant liver qi...

Lemon Calm Tea Blend
1/2 c. hibiscus flowers
1/3 c. lemon balm
1/3 c. rose petals
1/4 c. peppermint or spearmint
1/4 c. rosehips
1/4 c. lemon peel

Combine all of the ingredients well in a bowl or mason jar. Store in said mason jar or some other air-tight container. I brew about 1 Tbsp. per cup of water. Let it steep for 5-10 minutes. This makes a (beautifully pink) iced tea also! And please feel free to play with the ratio of herbs and perhaps add fun things like lavender or lemongrass or vanilla bean or...

Disclosure: Wild Grace uses affiliate campaigns from Mountain Rose Herbs that may be displayed as text links or images such as banners, buttons and widgets.  When you click on these affiliate program links and make a purchase, a very small commission may be credited to Wild Grace.  The commission that I receive is very small and helps me to defray the cost of buying ingredients to craft skin + body care recipes.  When you do make a purchase using my Mountain Rose Herbs affiliate link, your purchase is the same price you would pay if you went directly to  I sincerely appreciate your support and if you plan to purchase something anyway, I would be truly grateful if you did so through my affiliate link to Mountain Rose Herbs.

Fall Foods for Grounding

Katie Gordon

For those of you on the west coast where temperatures are still in the 80's, this post will be relevant to you in a few weeks.  However, for my friends over here in the east, we have officially entered the season of Vata and you may be finding that you've begun feeling the effects of the fall season that is now upon us.  Energetically, the expansiveness of the summer season is now descending, contracting, moving inward, shedding.  This shift can leave many of us feeling the effects of seasonal change in the fall more so than any other season.  Maybe you're feeling a little more mentally scattered?  Ungrounded?  Maybe your skin is beginning to feel dry and itchy?  Here are some foods to help bring you back down to earth and into your body. 1. Leafy Greens - Yea I know you've heard it all before.  Leafy greens are great year round, but the hearty greens we get from now through the winter like kale, swiss chard, and beet greens are great for cleansing the body of toxins and added much needed nutrients like iron, calcium, and vitamin A.  Try them sauteed with chopped fresh garlic and olive oil.

2. Squash - My favorite is delicata, roasted in olive oil and herbs of your choice for about 30 minutes, topped with (you guessed it) leafy greens and pumpkin seeds or walnuts.  Play around with different herbs and spices like thyme, rosemary, sage, cinnamon, and nutmeg, noticing what flavor combinations most appeal to you.

3. Pungent foods - These hot and spicy foods help to clear toxins that have been building up in our bodies over the summer.  Incorporate more hot peppers, ginger, chilies, garlic, get the idea.

4. Root veggies - Roasted root vegetables like sweet potatoes, beets, parsnips, and carrots are the perfect food for fall because they combine the earthiness of the vegetables with longer cooking times, energetically locking more heat into the food.  Here's a recipe I posted previously for a Roasted Root Salad.

5. Healthy fats - As the air gets cool and crisp, so do your skin and internal organs.  For  healthy, glowing skin and mucus membranes, make sure to get enough healthy fat and oil in your diet.  Think nuts + seeds, olive, coconut, and flax oils, etc.  Get creative.  Add oils to your smoothies, drizzle walnut oil over your roasted veggies,  add pumpkin seeds or hemp seeds to yogurt or oatmeal.  Think of moisturizing from the inside out!  Fats also help our bodies to feel more grounded and insulated during the cold winter months.  To be clear, this doesn't mean necessarily gaining weight, but just adjusting how you nourish yourself.  Allow yourself to eat warmer, heavier meals from now through winter.

Fall is a great time to turn your focus inward, learn new ways to nourish and feed yourself, and begin to build your energy reserves for the coming winter.  But it's also a great time of year to get out in your community, visit nearby farms to get your produce, go apple-picking, make your own cider, and start experimenting with fall foods and flavors.  Try new fruits and vegetables you come across and please share your favorite fall recipes!



Spring Miso Soup

Katie Gordon

Hi All!  It's been SO long since I've posted that I don't even know how to catch you up.  So let's just skip that for now so that I can share with you this awesome miso soup recipe that my amazing roommate and I made tonight.  The original inspiration for this recipe came from my mentor and friend, Nicole. As most of you know, I've been studying Chinese medicine in conjunction with Shiatsu Anma massage for awhile now and I've been getting into macrobiotics/eating and getting in tune with the seasons.  When I stick to it, I've noticed I feel much more grounded and at home in my mind and body.  Now that it's finally feeling like spring here in New England, it seems like a good time to start talking about Spring in terms of TCM.  Just in time for Summer to roll around...

Spring is the time for us to renew our relationship with our liver, which has been working extra hard all winter to digest the fats and heavy foods that have been sustaining us for the last few months.  Energetically, the liver is responsible for establishing a smooth flow of energy through the body and mind.  For these reason, Spring is also a great time to cleanse the liver, but more on that later.  Here are some basic guidelines for spring food:

- Eat light(ly)!  Not just less, but light foods.  Think organic greens, sprouts, lots of fresh veggies (of which there will be lots in the farmers' markets now), and grains. - Simple food preparation.  Steaming and sauteeing are quick and easy ways to cook most of those fresh veggies you just picked up. - Incorporate sweet and pungent flavors to move stagnation and get your chi (or qi if you prefer) moving. - Limit intake of salty foods.  Salt as a flavor has a sinking and contracting energy, which is the opposite of what we want to do in the spring.  Side note: I know miso is salty, but it's an exception because it's awesome and good for your liver.

Keep in mind for this recipe that it's soup, so feel free to vary any amounts (I didn't measure exactly) or add in/leave out whatever you're feelin' or not.

Also, mushrooms are a superfood.  Fact.

Spring Miso Soup:

8 c. water 2-3 c. chopped and whole fresh mushrooms (I used shiitake and cremini mushrooms, chopping up some and leaving some of the shiitake whole to make things interesting) 2-3 green onions, chopped 5-6 Tbsp. red miso* pre-cooked barley** handful of dandelion greens, chopped

Clean your mushrooms, chopping up some or all, and put them in a bit pot with the water, heat to a boil, turn to a simmer, and let them simmer away for an hour or so.  You don't have to do it this long, but it makes a richer mushroom broth and also extracts more of the nutrients in the mushrooms.

Now that you have your mushroom broth, throw in the chopped green onions to simmer for a few minutes.  In a small bowl, mix your miso and some warm water until the miso is completely blended, thinning out the mixture as needed, and add it to the mushroom broth.

Add in your barley and your greens.  Honestly, I didn't measure the barley at all, so just put in however much you think looks good, let it heat, and you're all set!

Notes: *I used red miso, though you can use any kind.  Red and yellow are both great for your liver, and have a bit more flavor in my opinion.  You can even use both.  Feel free to experiment and see what you like. **To make the barley, I put 1 c. pearled barley in a pot with 3 c. water, brought it to a boil, then let it simmer, covered, for about 45 minutes.  The package said it would take over an hour, but it definitely didn't, so just keep an eye on it.

Serves 6 or so.

the yang within the yin

Katie Gordon

Welcome to the first Saffron Zen post of 2011!  I know it's about time.  As winter progressed and we approached the New Year, I could sense myself contracting, like I was going into hibernation mode.  According to Chinese Medicine, that's what is supposed to happen during the winter season.  Winter corresponds to the element of water and the kidneys, bladder and adrenal glands.  Winter is the time to store our energy, nourish our bodies, minds, and souls. The kidneys are where our chi, our energy, is stored to be used in times of stress, illness, and as we age.  They can be thought of like a seed which stores so much potential energy for the life that will one day spring forth from it.  Stress is the main source of kidney chi deficiency.  As our chi is depleted, our adrenals get burnt out trying to keep up with us in the non-stop pace we set for ourselves, especially during the holidays.  In times of stress, it's important to take time out to also relax, restore, and rejuvenate.  Most importantly, winter is the time of year when we need to sleep!  Remember that thing we're supposed to get 8 hours of per night?  Shoot for 9 hours instead.

However, TCM theory also says that in the dead of winter appears yang, the sun energy, light.  Since the New Year, I've noticed a pretty major, though subtle, energetic shift.  I've been wanting to go out more, socialize, see and be seen.  It almost feels like a blossoming, an opening of my spirit.  It's the yang within the yin.

So although we're oh-so-gradually heading into the yang time of year, and even though it was 70 degrees and sunny today in So Cal (sorry for those of you in New England where it just snowed 2 feet in a day),  it's still January, and we still need to be nourishing our kidney chi by resting, relaxing, and enjoying warm soups, hearty whole grains, and lots of ginger tea.  That was a really long sentence.  At any rate, here's a recipe for miso soup that should not only warm you up in no time, but also is an amazing cure for the cold that everyone seems to be catching right now.

Miso Soup adapted from 101 cookbooks

3 oz. dried soba noodles 4 c. water 2-4 Tbsp. miso paste (I used white, but experiment with other kinds) Handful of spinach, or other leafy greens 2 green onions, tops removed, thinly sliced Pinch of red pepper flakes

Cook the noodles and set aside.

In a medium sauce pan, bring the water to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Pour some of the hot water into a bowl and whisk in the miso paste to thin it out.  Add the thinned miso paste back into the sauce pan.  Taste, and then add more if you like, using the same method as before.

Keep the noodles separate until just before you serve the soup, otherwise they can get mushy.  Just before serving, divide the noodles between two or three bowls, add the greens, onions, and red pepper flakes, and pour the broth over them.

Makes 2-3 servings.

Note: You can also add mushrooms (I like shiitake mushrooms, plus they're great for the adrenal glands), tofu, cilantro, ginger, etc.  It's fun to play around with miso soups, trying all kinds of variations depending on your mood.

Ascendance of the Earth

Katie Gordon

The first apples have appeared in the local farmers market, and even though the days are still warm, the nights have become cool and crisp.  Fall is fast approaching, but as summer wanes, time seems to hang suspended in the air, the pause just before Autumn serves up her harvest.  Indian summer.  It's a time of peace in which we can appreciate the fruits of our labor and that of the Earth.

In Chinese medicine, the time between Summer and Fall is the season of the Earth element.  According to the book Between Heaven and Earth, "Earth's density and mass sustain our momentum, keeping us aligned in the direction of our desired goal."  It is during this time that we can use this energy to generate change without losing our balance.  Earth and its energy represents our center of gravity, the place we always come back to when we need grounding.

Late summer, the time when Earth emerges, is associated with transformation.  Makes sense, right?  Days are getting shorter, weather is getting colder (in most places within the northern hemisphere), school is starting again, summer's time of fresh fruit and vegetable abundance is at it's climax, and soon we'll be heading into the wintery decay.  It's all part of our earthly cycle.

The organs related to Earth are the spleen (yin) and stomach (yang).  The spleen is one of the main organs of digestion, it helps to recycle red blood cells, and is where white blood cells trap organisms that cause infection.  Energetically, it incorporates whatever we take in, food, experience, etc. into the substance which makes us who we are.  According to Sarah Powers, it is the source of life for other organs because it takes the pure essences of ingested food and converts it into blood and chi.

We all know the stomach is primarily responsible for digestion, assimilation, and distribution.  From the stomach, immediately usable nutrients are sent to the spleen and things that need to be further broken down are sent  to the small intestine for more filtration.  Consider this: the stomach is the first thing to receive our food, other than our sense organs (mouth, nose, eyes, etc.).  It is responsible for nourishing our energy on all levels, physical, mental or emotional, which is why it is so important to take in unpolluted food and food that will nourish our individual constitutions.

Remember when I said our Earth energy is what grounds us?  So what happens when this energy, our spleen chi, is out of balance?  Our whole system can fall into a state of disharmony.  We end up feeling disjointed, uncertain, stressed out, and mentally and physically drained.  Our sleeping, thinking, eating, even breathing patterns can be thrown off.  We feel "ungrounded."  We may experience feelings of anxiety, worry, pensiveness, or off-centeredness.

This obsessive, anxious thinking depletes your spleen energy.  You may begin to feel mentally tired and dull.  Soon you might start to notice some digestive issues you've recently developed (or maybe you've always had them since you've always been an overthinker) ranging from indigestion, gas, and bloating to IBS.  When you deplete your spleen energy, it affects your stomach since they have an energetic relationship.

Likewise, it's possible to deplete your spleen energy.  Irregular eating habits, lots of cold or greasy food, and eating close to bedtime can all contribute to a decline in spleen energy.  When your stomach and spleen have to work harder to assimilate and digest the food you take in, it can lead to physical depletion of spleen chi, which eventually can cause mental weakness.  The mind affects the body just as the body affects the mind.  What you feed yourself contributes to your overall well-being on all levels, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

I read a quote the other day that said "Don't think.  If you do think, act."  The next time you start to overanalyze or obsess over something, ask yourself if you can do anything about the situation.  If you can, take that first step.  If you can't, try to let it go.  This ability to "let go" in our lives is an important skill for our health as well as our sanity.

So in this time of Earthly abundance, take a moment to enjoy this brief pause between birth and death, growth and decay, and cultivate a sense of groundedness, of being at home inside yourself, at ease wherever you are, while still being able to connect with the world around you.  You'll notice if you take a moment to ground yourself in this time and place, you'll be able to think more clearly as well as be more adaptable when the unexpected arises.

Spring and Liver Health

Katie Gordon

Now that Spring is officially here (at least I hope there's no more snow), there are changes everywhere we look.  Flowers blooming, grass growing, birds singing, people walking around without huge coats and boots, even the Duck Tours have started again here in Boston.  And of course opening day at Fenway this past week.  Spring really hasn't arrived until baseball season starts again, so I don't feel bad that I didn't write this weeks ago :)

Spring is a season of renewal and regeneration.  A time to get things moving again and the energy of Spring is highly active.  We start new projects (i.e. spring cleaning), prepare our taxes, study for finals...there's a lot of change going on.  For some this transition is relatively easy, but for others, this high energy can result in stress, frustration, nervousness, and even anger.  Sound at all familiar?

In Chinese Medicine, each season is associated with a major organ.  Spring corresponds to the liver and its complementary organ, the gallbladder.  The liver is responsible for the overall healthy flow of energy, or qi, or chi.  It regulates the movement of chi everywhere else in our body.  Since it plays such a major role in our health, and Spring is a time of renewal, it is a great time to cleanse the liver and gallbladder.

Physically speaking, the liver controls the muslces and tendons, storing blood during periods of rest, and releasing it during activity.

Energetically, the liver is responsible for creating an easygoing disposition and internal environment, therefore it is also in charge of balancing the emotions.  When there is an imbalance, we might experience mood swings, impulsive behavior and emotions, and chronic anger.  The liver corresponds to the element of Wood, needing to be both flexible and stable.

As for the mental qualities of the liver, it controls the coordination of the mind, allowing us to make connections, creating a plan and putting it into action.  At the same time, liver health is reflected in an ability to be flexible, change, and adapt, which is what Spring is all about!  As we all know, when we experience frustration, there isn't much clarity.  It's hard to think through situations, make plans, or shift in order to adapt to new conditions.

The gallbladder is connected to our ability to follow our path in life, to avoid being put off by external influences.  When our chi is depleted, we experience hesitation and timidity.

For some of us, our Liver qi starts to flow more easily when Spring hits, and much of the problems we experienced during Winter, such as sluggishness, begin to ease.   However, for others, the transition from Winter to Spring can be rough because of problems associated with qi stagnation.  Some signs of Liver qi stagnation are:

- Stress or irritability - Low energy - Depression - Muscle tightness or pain - Digestive disorders - Headaches

Spring is a wonderful time to work with these issues if you notice them coming up in your body, because these patterns  will be most noticeable and responsive during this season.  It's important to take this time for your own spiritual, emotional, and physical renewal, to examine unhealthy patterns, and to create new ones that will serve you better.

Here are some ways to get your liver chi moving:

Stretch - Since the liver rules your muscles and tendons, beginning your day with some gentle yoga or tai qi will get that energy moving as well as maintaining the health of your tendons.

Green - Eat lots of it!  Green is the color representative of Spring and the liver.  Eating fresh leafy greens will help with moving the liver chi.

Get outside - Speaking of green, there's finally some of it outside!  The best part about Spring is that it's finally warm enough to enjoy being outside instead of staying holed up in the house.  As it warms up, try doing more outdoor activities like taking a hiking or just a morning stroll.  Ride your bike around town.  Take your yoga practice outside, doing some sun salutations with the sun.

Taste sour - Foods with sour tastes are believed to stimulate liver chi.  Try starting your day with hot water and a squeeze of lemon, or follow your mid-day meal with a lassi (recipe to follow), or add a pickle to your sandwich.

Drink Milk Thistle tea -  It protects the liver from toxins and aids the liver in cleansing itself of toxins already present.

Get creative - Spring is all about creation and growth.  Expressing yourself in cooking, writing, dancing, singing, drawing, or any other form of self-expression will nourish and channel that Wood energy (remember flexible and stable) in a healthy way.

Anyway, sorry for the late post (Spring technically started March 21), but better late than never right?  I hope some of these suggestions will help ease you into the season and prepare the way for Summer (ok, I may be getting a little ahead of myself, but can you blame me?).

Katie's Lassi Recipe:

1 Part plain yogurt (start with 1/3 c.) 2 Parts water 1 tsp. rosewater (optional) Cardamom, cinnamon, ginger to taste (optional) Sweetener such as honey, maple syrup, brown rice syrup, etc.

Mix ingredients together and enjoy as a snack or 30 min. after a meal to aid with digestion.