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Journal

Embodied Rituals for Skin + Soul

Filtering by Tag: herbalism

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...

 
 
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