Healing Support for Trauma and Grief
I’ve never been one who was big for Valentines Day. Folks spending outrageous amounts on an elaborate date, flowers and gifts to me does not speak LOVE. Rather LOVE should be conveyed everyday. I surely do not need a day to remind me to say "I LOVE YOU" to my partner.
While Valentines Day to some means a romantic evening, floral bouquets and boxed chocolates, others just wish this Hallmark day would quickly pass. Holidays can be a real dump on many who are undergoing a bad breakup, loss of a loved one, divorce, being in a bad relationship or for those who feel alone. So whilst many folks are posting Valentine wishes, I want to share how some of the same herbs mentioned in The Herbal Academy post on Heart Happy Herbs for Valentines Day, are also allies for those in grief.
Some years back I found myself dealing with grief and trauma after a breakup, I found solace in working with two of three of the herbs (Rose and Hawthorn) mentioned in this article, Heart Happy Herbs for Valentines Day. Aside of working with plant medicine, I incorporated more outdoors time. Getting outdoors, spending time in nature as Mother Earth is good medicine and heals. As plant medicine and vibrational medicine (flower essence) can help one on a path of healing, so do the outdoors. DIET, most folks turn to binge eating on junk food like pizza, ice cream and find themselves in the bar more often drinking away the pain which is like a bandaid, the after is painful. These sorts of behaviors are just masking the grief. It is like covering a wound for a short moment, but these actions will only add to grief in the end. Working through grief is a process, some folks will go to the doctor for prescription meds that do not address the issue and allow one to work through the process and heal. SELF CARE and SELF LOVE is the most important thing during this time. Eating nourishing foods, adding nourishing herbs to the nervous system like Milky Oats, Oatstraw, Nettles, Skullcap and taken in form of a tonic (tonics are a substance that is taken in the absence of a illness or disease that are taken overtime that will strengthen a system or organ). Getting adequate sleep, and having a support crew of friends can all help on a path of healing oneself. At least this is what I did to help myself.
Herbal support also helped in healing the trauma and grief. I will discuss some of the plants I worked with during this time, plants that helped both on the physiological and emotional level. These plants I will mention have many other medicinal actions and uses that I will not cover as this is not a monograph of each as this is more of "this is why I worked with them".
Some of the plants I worked with were; Hawthorn Crataegus spp. Hawthorn has an affinity to both the physical and emotional heart, it increases blood flow to the heart as it also strengthens and protects the heart and lowers high blood pressure. Parts used are the leaf, flower and berries. I prefer to work with the whole berries than powdered or than leaf and flower. Herbalist Jim McDonald discusses leaf over berry in this Mountain Rose Herb Hawthorn Plant Walk that is posted here. Berries hold on to their potency better, than the leaf and flower. I once ordered Hawthorn leaf and flower and it was not vibrantly green. If you are fortunate to live where Hawthorn is native to, then in spring gather that leaves and flowers. The berries are high in flavonoids and contain more of the cardiac constituents. I prepare the berries using the decoction method, the cardiac constituents are heat sensitive and are broken down in the decoction process. Decoction is a method which is adding the plant + water, bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer and letting it simmer from anywhere between half an hour or longer. This depends on what you are working with. Plants that require a decoction are those that are dense and hardy like, berries, bark, seed, roots, fungi. I leave it going slow and low for about an hour for Hawthorn. I also add the berries to the blender and powder them up before adding to water. This helps opens the cellular walls of the plant. Whenever I see plants that need to be prepared using the decoction method sold powdered up in tea bags, I get a little peeved because the medicine is not truly being extracted, sure the flavor is there but it is weak and I feel it is bad to sell products without proper instruction on preparation. If I had an option between a tea bag of powdered Hawthorn or tincture extract, I would opt for the tincture. For more on Hawthorn check out this monograph by herbalist Heather Irvine on Hawthorn for HerbRally. Hawthorn can be ordered through Mountain Rose Herbs or Starwest Botanicals. I have even ordered it on Monterey Spice Company.
I also worked with vibrational medicine during this time, flower essences. I did just about all I could do to work through this traumatic time that left me feeling heavy hearted and filled with gloom. The flower essence of Hawthorn flower aids in calming the spirit and heart. It opens a heart that may be closed off. Hawthorn flower essence encourages self love and self acceptance. Helping with working through grief, anger and in letting go of the accumulated anger towards myself.
I worked with lymphatic herbs like Ocotillo Fouquieria splendens a plant indigenous to the Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts. Ocotillo is a striking tall Dr. Seuss like plant which arms stretch out in all directions. Each of the branches are dressed in spines that are covered with resinous small green leaves and topped with vibrant red flowers that bloom with a good rain. Come the dry months of the year, the plant loses its green leaves and flowers which leads anyone unfamiliar with the plant to believe that the plant is dead, rather it is in its dormant stage and will return with vigor after a rain. Ocotillo is not native to where I live in the Mojave Desert, but It can grow here if planted. I was fortunate to have friends who let me harvest branches and to gather flowers when they were in bloom for flower essence. Ocotillo has an affinity to the circulatory and lymphatic system, specifically of the pelvic region and liver. Darcey Blue Shamana Flora eloquently explains how Ocotillo helps get things unstuck "Ocotillo has an affinity for moving physical stagnation from the pelvis and liver, it also helps to unlock blocked/stagnant energy of the pelvic and sexual regions. In particular the kundalini stuck/blocked in the first three chakras – root, sacral and solar plexus. It is these chakras associated with our core self, our security and sense of safety, our roots in the earth, our sexuality, our passions and pleasure, and our ability to manifest and create. I have seen, in myself, and in others, that when this flow gets blocked at any of these three chakras, the result is a lack of sexual energy and vitality, overwhelming fear, difficulty providing for ones physical needs, inability to connect with core self and purpose, denial or inability to deal with emotions and frustrating or unhealthy situations, a feeling of being cut off from purpose, passion, and creativity. This can cause depression, a sense of overwhelm, over emotionality and explosive reactions, or on the flip side a complete disassociation from ones feelings and a sense of apathy and a complete lack of interest in sexuality and intimate emotional connection with others, or with ones purpose and creative work in the world"
Personally I was drawn to Ocotillo because of its field characteristics. Sitting with Ocotillo and observing the ebb and flow of the plant, I noticed how the dormancy phase of the plant was a message to me that I should not feel guilt for wanting to withdraw and take time to work out the funk so that I can return with vigor, just like Ocotillo does after a nice desert downpour. The spiny branches demand RESPECT & HONORING BOUNDARIES. It is common to see Ocotillo planted along the perimeters on properties, it is a living fence that is protective of the inhabitants within. The flower essence of Ocotillo helped me in speaking my truth, standing tall, strong and grounded. I even put a fallen branch of Ocotillo on my nightstand as a symbolic metaphor of protection and a reminder of my boundaries. I sound a bit woowoo here which I tend to keep more to myself. But yes, I believe that plants are magical and help on the physical, spiritual and emotional levels. .
Lung herbs, some folks may not consider using lung herbs for grief and trauma. I did for the fact that having asthma since a child, I found emotional stress, excitement, fear, anxiety would flare up an asthma attack. Aside of that, grief is known to be held in the lungs. I added Mullein Verbascum thapsis to my daily routine in either tincture, tea or infusion I found it to be strengthening to the respiratory system. I actually still work with this herb till this day as I find it to be a trophorestorative to the lungs. If making a tea with the leaf, you will find the fine hairs on the leaf to be irritating. I usually strain my spent herbs out using a mesh strainer and found the tiny mullein hairs just floating around. So using a muslin bag, nut milk bag, folding a cheese cloth, cloth or coffee paper filter will also work and the paper filter can be rinsed out and reused a couple more times. This will prevent that scratchy throat and irritation that some feel when drinking a cup of Mullein tea that has not been strained properly.
I worked with calming nervine herbs like Chamomile Matricaria chamomilla or as I grew up knowing this herb as Manzanilla. An herb that I take for when I am feeling stressed out, frazzled, restless, pissed off and anxious. It is also an aromatic bitter, so I like this for upset stomach, intestinal cramping and wind. Chamomile, paired with Mullein not only quiets the anxiousness but also relaxed the bronchial spasms.
Adaptogens! Reishi Ganoderma lucidum and Astragalus Astragalus membranaceus were two that I rotated often with during this time. Helped in adapting to stress and enhanced overall wellness. Reishi is a fungi and Astragalus is a root. If purchasing slivers or chopped up using the decoction method as mentioned above is the way to extract the water soluble constituents of Reishi and Astragalus. I have been spending time in the PNW and have been exploring with a species of the Ganoderma family, G. applanatum it is a new fungi to me that I am studying about curious of similarities of the two and if they can be used interchangeably. Jason Scott of Feral Fungi offers dried fungi and extracts on his website. It is easy to have a weakened immune system when emotionally down so nourishing oneself in my eyes is so very important. I like making broth with either Astragalus or Reishi, freezing batches and storing for later use. I will share my Adaptogenic Chai Recipe below. Something yummy for the cold dark months of winter.
Rose Rosa spp. I used to look down on Rose, never did I appreciate this plant until I learned of the incredible medine it offers. Rose is a sweet reminder to us all to stop and smell the roses. It is also a heart opening herb that aids with anxiety and depression. I even used the haw of Rose, Rose Hips. Rose Hips are high in Vitamin C but they loose their strength when dried and of course during the heat process. Ascorbic acid does not like heat. So if you can find fresh Rose Hips that have never been treated with chemicals then that would be a great way to get some vitamin C. I was lucky to find a stand of Wild Rose growing in the backcountry of the Sierra when I was backpacking the John Muir Trail. I went along and picked a handful and ate as I trekked.
Linden flower and leaf have a long reputation as a calming heart tonic with moistening, cooling, relaxing actions. When I would feel agitated and angry, sipping on tea of Linden helped cool the angst inside me.
Boundaries were something that needed to be re-established. For me working with Creosote Bush Flower Essence helped in processing and moving forward. More on the flower essence of Creosote Bush click on this link.
This plant is indigenous to us here in the Mojave so it is a plant that I work with often. My observation of Creosote Bush, Larrea tridentata over the years have shown me just how incredibly strong and resilient Larrea is. Opening our eyes and hearts to what we learn by observation is also a form of medicine in itself. Once again folks that know me, know that I don't talk woowoo as I am more scientific in thought. I don't sit in a plant meditation and see dancing green fairies but I let the earth talk to me. The resin on the leaves and stems on Larrea serves as a mechanism of protection from not only herbivores but from losing water and protection from the harsh rays of the sun. Larrea selectively dropping of leaves and stems when lacking water is a way that it conserves its water. Larrea is an allelopathic plant which will inhibit the threat of other flora inprocahing of its water. I admire this plant so much for so many reasons aside of the medicinal benefits. Larrea has taught me about boundaries by how Larrea governs the land in which it thrives in, hence one of the other common names, Gobernadora.
This may sound like a heck of a lot of herbs and many things to do to help one heal, healing from trauma and grief is a process and as some folks tend to seek western medicine and visit a doctor for a prescription to nullify a pain, it is all merley bandaids that are not allowing the natural release of the issue. Clinical herbalist, botanist, mycologist, acupuncturist author, Christopher Hobbs said it best when he said, “Herbs are not with side effects, they’re side benefits”.
2 cups filtered or spring water
2 tablespoons Astragulus Root
1 knob sliced ginger root or 1 tablespoon ginger
2 sticks of cinnamon (chop up if possible in blender)
4 crushed cardamom pods
4 - 8 peppercorns crushes (more if you like it spicy)
1 teaspoon Allspice
1 grated Nutmeg
OPTIONAL 1 tablespoon Black Tea
1 cup milk of choice
To TASTE honey, maple syrup, agave, coconut sugar, monk fruit, organic sugar your choice
Pour water into pot. Add Astragalus bring to boil and reduce to simmer covered for 20 to 30 minutes. Then add all other ingredients except black tea, milk and sweetener. Allow to simmer slow and low for another 20 to 30 minutes. Add milk and sweetener.