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Journal

Embodied Rituals for Skin + Soul

Filtering by Tag: herbal energetics

Elder: The Queen of Herbs

Katie Gordon

My life has basically become one giant Wild Medicine Bundle as I've been exploring the energetics and plant medicine of Elderflower. I've been wanting to make magic with these soft, creamy flowers for a long time, but lately, the Elder tree has been calling more loudly than normal. So, I listened. 

Most of us are used to using the berries from the Elder tree for their immune-boosting effects. And while the flowers have some of the same benefits, they felt more mysterious to me. Enigmatic. And so ethereal. 

I first started working with Elder plant medicine last fall when I got an Elderflower essence from Casandra Johns over at House of Hands. She says, "Elderflower opens us to the liminal, crepuscular spaces between waking and dreaming, here and there, life and death." What caught my attention, though, was on the label: A somatic experience of spacious surrender.

Surrender... Something I've been feeling into and trying to understand from deep within my bones to have an embodied sense of it rather than just as an intellectual concept. Surrendering not in the sense of giving up, but in the way of following what you know to be true. Saying yes to your yeses and no to your nos. Acknowledging that when you feel like you're banging your head against the wall, there's probably a better way. Tapping into and being guided by your inner knowing. That kind of surrender.

Elder is strongly associated with the Feminine, which is quite comfortable with surrender, and one with ancient magical symbolism. Many folkloric traditions speak of the Elder tree with fear, with tales of witches, death, and the devil. But if you look deeper, Elder tells the story of beginnings and endings, death and regeneration, and transformation. Elder spirit guards the crossroads, the in-betweens, the thresholds. Death is actually a symbol of rebirth, change, transmutation, and initiation. A shedding of the old to make space for the new. And what a perfect time to invite in the new than at Beltane, when the Elder trees are in flower, when the belfires are burning hot to purge away anything no longer serving who you are at your core. 

What are the herbal energetics of Elderflower?

Elderflower is a relaxing diaphoretic, which means it stimulates persperation and increases peripheral circulation (i.e. circulation throughout your limbs) to not only help cool the body, but also relaxes the exterior. Meaning, if you have a bunch of trapped heat in your center, a relaxing diaphoretic like Elderflower can help release that trapped heat out through your pores. Have you ever noticed that, often, when you're anxious your hands and feet get cold? Me too. Elderflower is one of my favorite herbs for that because rather than simply telling your nervous system to relax, which rarely works for many people, it goes straight to where the tension is held and releases it. Cool, eh?

But one of my favorite ways to work with Elderflower is in skincare. The flowers of the Elder tree are incredibly anti-inflammatory, which leaves us with a BROAD range of medicines to make with it. Infuse it in a carrier oil like Sweet Almond oil for a massage oil for achy, swollen joints or make the oil into a face cream for irritated skin conditions like rosacea or eczema. I've been using Elderflower tea on my scalp and the hydrosol to hydrate my skin (which has a hard time in the in-between of seasonal transitions). 

One thing I emphasize in my work with plants is Right Relationship. Meaning, it's not about what I'm getting from them or what they can do for me. That kind of thinking is short-sighted, and for those of us who are working for a paradigm that is more Whole and holistically healthy, looking to herbs for their health benefits falls flat. Instead, the real medicine comes from spending time with the plants. Listening to their wisdom. Asking questions. Observing how they exist in the world in the most perfect balance, which means ever-evolving. 

Elder has been teaching me about death. About its surrender, its beauty, its space, and about the careful cultivation of life that necessitates death. That the in-between can be (and often is) uncomfortable, sad, frustrating, and confusing. And the waves and contractions that we feel are there to propel us forward and reveal potential. 

If you're curious about working more with Elderflower in all its various facets and forms, the Beltane Wild Medicine Bundle is available until Wednesday, 4/19. After that, it'll go into hibernation until after Beltane. 

If you purchase the bundle by the 19th as a Wild Medicine Keeper, you also get:

  • $10 discount on your bundle
  • E-book with product write-ups, ideas for Beltane rituals, recipes that don't end up being made for bundle products, and a guided journey with Elder
  • Behind-the-scenes emails with photos, bloopers (yes, there are occasionally accidents in the apothecary), and you'll hear from me sharing a bit about my creative process for making the bundles.
  • An opportunity to win a space in the Wild Medicine Keepers for the next Wild Medicine Bundle, a Midsummer celebration!

Lavender: An Old World Medicine

Katie Gordon

I've been busy testing recipes for the Lavender + Labdanum Wild Medicine Bundle, in honor of Imbolc, a festival of Fire and Light. I think I have it narrowed down to the 4 items that'll be included, but in the process of crafting and coming up with new ideas, I realized Lavender is a plant that seems to be both overlooked in favor of "sexier" herbs and simultaneously still serves as a go-to for so many issues from stress and depression, burns, wounds, and skin conditions to difficult labor, fevers, and digestive difficulties. Lavender has been widely used for thousands of years from the early Romans luxuriating in lavender baths, early apothecaries preparing freshly distilled lavender for their eau de Cologne, until now, when most of us have a bottle of lavender essential oil in our medicine cabinet or a lavender candle next to the bed. 

To me, that says there's something not only timeless about Lavender, but something that speaks to us as humans on a primal, physiological and psychological level. Something about this ancient plant that heals us in ways we perhaps don't understand, but still feel drawn to. Like we know there's something there for us without knowing what that thing is. After spending time researching Lavender from a standpoint of aromatherapy, herbal energetics, and Chinese medicine meridian theory, I still don't know. But I know a bit more about Lavender, "The Oil of Paradox and Renewal," according to Peter Holmes, my Aroma Acupoint Therapy teacher. 

I love paradoxes. Seeming opposites are bridged by something often subtle yet powerful. Paradoxes force us to wonder how two things can exist in one space that are so vastly and completely different. This reconciliation of opposites seems to me to be a place of profound medicine. Lavender guides us into those places of profound medicine. 

Imperial Gem Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

Imperial Gem Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

Lots of people use Lavender for stress, so let's look at that as an example. There's such thing as productive stress and unproductive stress. Productive stress is a normal part of life. You need to be alert and on-watch when you're driving. If you were feeling completely and utterly relaxed, it probably wouldn't be safe for yourself or those around you. However, the stress you feel when you can't sleep because you're thinking about all the things you need to do and your mind jumps from one catastrophe to another, and then you get stressed out that you're stressed out and can't sleep, which only serves to keep you from sleeping even more? That's unproductive stress. It can stem from either the sympathetic or parasympathetic nervous system. That kind of stress leads to, among other things, nervous tension, pain, irritability, feeling mentally distracted or unfocused, muscle spasms and cramps, heart palpitations, etc. Symptoms associated with being chronically in the fight-or-flight response. 

Lavender selectively inhibits certain sympathetic OR parasympathetic nervous system functions that cause those symptoms because it works with with the individual's constitution, so the body responds to the plant according to what it needs. Because Lavender works adaptively like this to modulate the nervous system, it doesn't interfere with the good/productive stress, which is a normal part of functioning in life.

Here's an example of Lavender's paradoxical power:

Let's say that habitual behavior or addictions, feeling stuck in a rut, repeating unhealthy or unproductive patterns, is on one end of the spectrum. On the other end of that spectrum is an acute crisis or spontaneous, sudden change such as an accident or trauma, surgery, family crisis, or the stress that comes with giving up an addiction (completely new patterns and behaviors that seem to us to come on suddenly). Lavender can help us both to move OUT of old, stuck patterns, promoting renewal and opening us to new possibilities, while also helping us to accept painful situations or the fear that comes along with sudden change and crisis.

Another place we see Lavender's paradoxical and harmonizing effects is how it can exert either a heating or a cooling effect on the body according to the needs of the person. For a person with a hot condition (fever, inflammation, often acute), Lavender would have a cooling, sedating, and anti-inflammatory effect. On the other hand, for someone with a more chronic cold condition (chills, exhaustion, cold hands and feet), Lavender would act as a stimulant, generating heat and activity in their system. 

Lastly, let's look at the energetics of Lavender for a few more clues to understanding its nature and effects. The Lavender shrub grows best in a hot, dry climate with a thin layer of rocky, well-draining topsoil. Lavender, tempered by these elements of Earth and Fire, expresses this rugged strength by reconciling contradictions. Just like we touched on above. Unproductive and productive stress. Habitual patterns and crisis. 

However, here we go with another contradiction, as far as fragrance classification goes, the scent of Lavender is largely considered to be the water element - cool, soft, fluid, sweet. It has harmonizing, calming, and refreshing properties, making it a plant of renewal through water as well as strength through fire. True transformation.

And if we look at the name, Lavender derives from the Latin lavare, meaning to wash. So, yes Lavender was used in and associated with bath houses, but the washing it really refers to takes place on the mind/body/spirit level, allowing the psyche to open up, and the heart to soften.

If you need some Lavender in your life, it's featured in the Imbolc Wild Medicine Bundle - crafted with Lavender, Labdanum (an ancient oil used in medicine and ceremony), and a bit of Clary Sage in honor of the Celtic goddess Brigid. Learn more or purchase yours here. They're available until tomorrow and then they're gone!

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 MountainRoseHerbs.com.  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.