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It’s mid-December, 2016. I write that for future readers who may not know the context and urgency of this post. I hope these future readers are on the other side of the fight against the forces of hate and domination. But for now, I write this to you, and you know exactly what I mean when I say resistance. You know what we are up against and you know what is at stake. You also know that the fight will be going on for a long time. Quite possibly for the rest of our lives. The thought is exhausting.
Some of you are still in shock. Some of you saw it coming. Many are grieving. Many fear for your bodily safety and the safety of those you love. Those familiar with history are bracing yourselves for what’s next. I am here to tell you we need all of you. We need your love, your will and your vision of the world you want to live in.
I am compiling a list of herbs that can help us in the fight, even when the fight is simply surviving in a world run by those who act in the name of greed and hatred.
Holy Basil, or Tulsi
Holy Basil, a.k.a. Tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum /Ocimum sanctum)
Tulsi or Holy Basil is an aromatic mint family herb that originates in India. Most of us, maybe all, can benefit from the multi-faceted and powerful medicine of Tulsi. First, Tulsi is uplifting to the spirit. I call it a brightener as it brightens our perspective, and who couldn’t use that right about now? Well I can think of some folks, but I’m not talking to them. Tulsi is also a gentle but powerful remedy for both anxiety and depression, or the frequent combination of the two. Tulsi helps cut through mental fog bringing clarity when we need it, and we need our wits about us now more than ever. After a week or so of post-election fugue state, I used Tulsi to cut through the fog. Tulsi helped me see that constructive action feels better than numb disbelief. As an adaptogen, Tulsi lessens the effects of stress on the body, thus decreasing our chances for developing long term stress related chronic illness.
Preparation and dosage -- Tincture of fresh or dry herb: 30-90 drops. Tea: standard infusion. Both to 3x a day.
St. John's Wort tincture and flower
St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)
Saint John’s Wort has been used for mood support at least since the Middle Ages. Michael Moore taught that SJW helps when we have suffered a blow to our confidence, when our life seems to be in ruins. When we are unsure of how to climb out of the ruin and begin anew. In old European lore, SJW was carried to ward off lightning strike. These two associations remind me of the Tower card of the Tarot, which depicts a tower struck by lightning and signifies catastrophic change. Lightning not only destroys, it also illuminates. Those crumbling edifices that do not support us are exposed. As a society, we are in a moment of harsh illumination. On our own, we fear change and hold may hold onto structures that are harmful to us and others. The storm gives us no choice, clarifying the situation and forcing us to move on.
In our society, we are in the midst of cataclysmic change. The racist and violent underpinnings of this nation are laid bare. Many of us feel more disempowered than ever as we look at the destruction and wonder what to do. May this time of chaos and illumination be the fire that forces us to build the world we want to live in. Hypericum can help.
In the body, SJW supports the liver. This is especially helpful when we feel stagnant and in a rut, unsure what to do, hence its reputation as an ally for those who tend towards depression. For those who experience anxiety, SJW helps the liver clear our stress hormones which can keep us agitated. Allowing the liver to process the effect of everyday stress and oppression more efficiently helps us build resilience and feel less defeated.
Contraindications: if you are on any pharmaceuticals, including hormone therapy, check to see if they are safe to take with SJW. Avoid in cases of mania or bipolar disorder.
Preparation and dosage -- Tincture of fresh flowers and buds: 20-60 drops. Tea: standard infusion. Both to 3x a day.
Hawthorn (Crataegus sp.)
This beloved herb has been written about perhaps more than any other. Despite all this previous attention, I want to highlight the importance of Hawthorn’s medicine for the current moment. This is for my empaths out there. Feeling deeply and strongly is a double edged sword. As a power, empathy allows us to feel the pain of others, to assess their needs and act accordingly. This attribute sorely lacking in our culture or we would not be where we are now. However, being empathic can also feel like a curse. To feel the pain of others, with oppression playing out all around, with endless news of violence and hate, can be debilitating. I have spent many days crying as the last bit of news sent me over the edge. Sometimes it is difficult to get out of bed. This time of great grief needs us though. The world needs those who see the pain and destruction and feel it personally. For we are charged with sharing these feelings, for witnessing, speaking up, drawing attention and acting. Hawthorn helps with this burden.
Hawthorn nourishes and strengthens the anatomic and metaphysical heart. It helps us process and heal from grief. Hawthorn also strengthens our boundaries. It thickens our skin without making us callous. Hawthorn calms agitated states, eases symptoms of overstimulation. It also supports us in times of anxiety and despair. There is no more potent ally in this heartbreaking era. We need strong hearts right now. Hawthorn can help.
Preparation and dosage: tincture of the berries and/or flowers, 15-60 drops. Tea: standard infusion of the flowers and leaves or decoction of the berries. Both to 3x a day.
Contraindications: Do not use in cases of diastolic congestive heart failure. Use caution when using digitalis based products, anti-hypertensives, nitrates, and/or beta-blockers.
Milky Oat Seed
Milky Oat Seed (Avena sativa)
Fear, though much maligned, has a purpose. Feeling afraid when we are threatened keeps us aware, on point. Fear has saved my life and the lives of many I love. But what happens when we experience fear on a regular basis? As we enter a time of heightened threats, fear has/will become a more constant state for some. There are those who now live in increasing fear of deportation, registration, the loss of loved ones, and/or death by racist, homophobic or misogynist violence. Living with fear over a long period of time takes its toll on the body. Our muscles stay clenched. Our digestive systems grow weak. We lose sleep. Our nerves literally become frazzled. We are exhausted, depleted, in need of rest and nourishment. This state calls for the seed of oat grass, harvested at the milky stage.
Milky oats are nourishing and restorative to the nervous system. They help ease symptoms of nervous exhaustion, improve sleep and allow us to let our guards down a bit. They are useful in the moment, when experiencing immediate stress, but work even better when taken over extended periods of time to build up a frayed, depleted nervous system. Milky oats soothe the overworked and overtaxed. They lessen the effects of chronic fear on the body. This supports health in every organ system. In so doing, Milky oats also ease the effects of fear on our society as a whole. Fear paralyzes, prevents action. The forces who most profit from a stratified society use fear to control us. Those who have more than others fear those who have less and act accordingly. Those who have less have much to fear from the system itself, as they are kept in place by violence and institutional racism and poverty. We must blunt the effects of fear. If we let fear dominate our thoughts, we will not fight for a better world. When we refuse to be ruled by fear, we become much less easy to rule. Here’s to being less easy to rule.
Preparation and dosage-- tincture of milky oat seed: 30-90, standard infusion of oat straw both to 4x a day.
Contraindications: avoid if you have a gluten sensitive and have a reaction to gluten free oats. If oats are fine, then this medicine is fine. No other known contraindications.
Ashwagandha (Withania somniferum)
Ashwagandha, a medicinal herb from the Nightshade family, has been an essential medicine in India for thousands of years. Ashwagandha increases resilience as it helps us adapt to stress. Overtime, Ashwagandha makes us less reactive so we respond to stress in ways that are more productive, lessening the likelihood we will exacerbate the situation. Ashwagandha can be used situationally, meaning you can use it in the moment to deal with a specific stressor. However, this medicine really shines when used tonically to nourish and restore a body/mind depleted by long term chronic stress. This action buffers the effects of stress on the body, decreasing our chances of developing chronic stress-related illness. Ashwagandha is specific for worriers and those who live with chronic fear. It supports those who experience mental anguish, insomnia, anxiety and depression. Who among us does not visit these states regularly these days? Ashwagandha is strengthening, an attribute in great demand in the current era. We will soon be tested in ways we may not have imagined. I have faith that we are ready to answer the call. Each of us possesses an inner strength that we seldom access. Ashwagandha increases our resilience, endurance and inner strength. It is an indispensible ally for our times. The fight will not be brief and it will not be easy, but this is our time. We were made for this.
Dosage--tincture of DRY root only: 30-60 drops. Tea: standard decoction. Both to 3x a day or once at night.
Contraindications: do not take if you are allergic to nightshades. Do not take with hyperthyroidism. Use caution during pregnancy.
Kava cocoa with Dale Pendell's chapter on Kava in Pharmako/Poeia
Kava Kava (Piper methysticum)
Sometimes it’s all too much. Sometimes, you just need to take the edge off. If we are too tense and anxious to enjoy any part of our lives, how can we remember what we are fighting for? There are days when a cocktail may seem like the best medicine. Kava is a powerful ally for days like this. Kava imparts a sense of well being even in the most difficult of times. It eases anxiety, grief and despair. Kava calms without dulling the mind.
Kava originates in Polynesia where it has been used for millennia in ways that can inform our use. In Polynesian cultures, Kava is prized as a tool for mediation. Traditionally, folks use kava to discuss difficult subjects, to find common ground, to make peace. While I would argue that this is no time for peace, this is a time for building alliances between disparate groups. Sure, organizing with others can be challenging. Personalities clash, egos flare. But now, more than ever, we must organize and fight to create a better world. Potential allies are everywhere. It is time for difficult conversations, for working with folks who are not exactly like us. Kava is an excellent tool for this work. Just as the folks who first met and cultivated Kava learned, Kava eases communication, both the work of articulating our thoughts and the more difficult work of listening. If you are new to the world of working for change, if you lost patience for organizing long ago, if social anxiety inhibits your ability to reach out to others, try Kava. We need everyone in the fight. All hands on deck.
Preparation and dosage -- Tincture of dry or fresh root:30-90 drops. Tea: standard decoction or cold infusion. Both to 4x a day. Adding fat, such as a milk or oil to the tea aids extraction. Kava makes a fine addition to chai or cocoa, add a teaspoon or two to a cup. Smaller doses take the edge off. Larger doses move is into the realm of intoxication.
Contraindication: do not take if you have Parkinson’s disease. Kava can potentiate the effects of opiate painkillers. Use caution in cases of extreme depression.
It’s not over.
This is the start of a larger compendium, a Materia Medica for the struggle. There are countless herbal allies for us as we confront the powers of greed and domination. Contact me at [email protected] if you want to order herbs from us or if you want help finding a local apothecary or herbalist. Or better yet, if you want to grow your own herbs and make your own medicine, write me for advice. Find the herbs that work for you and share them with your friends.
Take care of each other.