Herbs to soothe our collective grief

On this day of Thanksgiving in America, there are a lot of people in pain. There are people who do not have homes, people who have lost their children to police violence, people whose lives have been torn apart by sexual violence, people who are angry and have many good reasons to feel rage. We cannot escape the pain of living in this world, nor should we try to escape. We could all use a good dose of being present with the realities that surround us every day, whether the media reports them or not. We could all use a good dose of true compassion–for ourselves and for the grief and fear of others.

As an herbalist, I often turn to my plant allies in times like this. I’d like to offer a few remedies that can help us move more easily though pain. We are lucky to live in a world that is so lush with plants who are willing to offer themselves to us as medicine. Some of my favorite allies for grief, heartbreak and fear are hawthorn, rose, motherwort and borage.

2013-12-28 15.25.43Hawthorn is one of the plants I think of first when any issue around the heart arises. If someone is feeling heartbreak from the loss of love, the death of a loved one, or any other deep loss, I turn to hawthorn. I use it in the form of flower essence for this purpose, but I also add the berries, leaves and flowers to tea or make tincture out of them. Hawthorn is soothing to the emotional heart, but it also supports good cardiovascular health. It is abundant and magical. It is a sacred tree in many cultures. You can’t see the thorns in my photo, but those thorns will remind you to treat the plant with deep respect. I always add a thorn to my tincture so that anyone taking it is also offered this protective quality of the tree.

20140627_130316I use rose for most any emotional upset, whether it is an extreme feeling of aggression or the deep despair that I’ve been swimming in as of late. I’ve been carrying a bottle of rose petal elixir that I made around with me for months now. I reach for it when things just get to be too much. Rose helps to calm the mind and heart, imparting a soothing balm to whatever situation we find ourselves in. While I would never suggest that rose could take away a mother’s grief at losing her child to gun violence, surrounding ourselves with soothing beauty will surely help to ease the feelings that come up from moment to moment. I like to use rose for people who are quick to anger (or despair), and also those whose lives have been touched by sexual trauma. It is a beautiful plant whose thorns, again, remind us that while softness and gentleness are beautiful, those gifts do not come without very clear limits.

motherwort 2014-05-26 16.58.35Motherwort is another fierce plant that protects the heart by helping us to maintain our openness while also being extremely vigilant about our boundaries. This plant’s Latin name is Leonurus cardiaca (Lion-heart), which gives us a clue about its uses. It is a wonderful plant (in tincture or tea form) to help ease anxiety and anxiety-related heart palpitations. As a flower essence, it helps us to be open yet firm. I think about all of the mothers who do this every day–opening their hearts wide to their children while also maintaining healthy boundaries and good discipline. It’s a very challenging dance, and most of us don’t know how to do it very well. We try our best, but this ally will help us as we struggle to maintain our center.

borage-flowering-topsLastly, the sweet and beautiful borage flower offers up a dose of courage to face our fears and move through them. This demure flower is a balm for the heart, helping to cheer our hearts so that we can find our courageous selves in the midst of tough times. I use this pretty much exclusively as a flower essence, though I do love eating the flowers and I have made a potent borage flower elixir with the delicate blossoms. I add the flowers to many of my heart-ease formulas when I make tinctures or elixirs, but since they are small, it takes many flowers to really amount to much medicine. That’s why I love the flower essence. It offers big medicine in just a few flowers.

I am extremely grateful to the plants that provide us with their generous support. I am grateful for my teachers and all who provide opportunities to reconnect with nature and our plant allies. On this day of giving thanks, let us remember that plants are our relations, that we must treat our Mother Earth and all of our fellow beings with respect. Let us reconnect ourselves to the web of life–we have never been separate; we have only bought into the illusion that our actions could be divorced from consequences. Love one another as best you can today and every day.


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