Herbal Protocols for Emotional Wellbeing

After doing an assessment, what are the ways that an herbalist can assist someone who is struggling with their emotional wellbeing?  Before we get to protocols, it is important to examine the larger health issues that can play a role in mental illness symptoms.  I have talked about how we have changed how we perceive mental illness.  Beginning in the middle of the 20th century, scientists started looking at the role of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and GABA influence mood and wellbeing. Much of the modern psychiatric lens is based  on seeing individuals as having a “chemical imbalance”, meaning a deficit or surplus of some neurotransmitters that can be managed and adjusted by various psychiatric drugs.  However, that view of mental illness increasingly has come under scrutiny and has been found to be seriously lacking.

In the last 20 years as that theory faltered, functional doctors and naturopaths have aimed their focus on a variety of health conditions that intertwine with mental illness symptoms such as anxiety, depression, mania and psychosis.   Much of the research has focused on a few areas of concern:

Thyroid imbalances

Gut Health- SIBO, dysbiosis, leaky gut, poor absorption, etc

Adrenal Health- Hypothalamus/Pituitary/Adrenal axis dysregulation

Inflammation

Epigenetic mutations

Hormonal imbalances

Autoimmune disorders

This article is not meant as a step by step way to manage these various health concerns.  Often each imbalance is addressed with a combination of dietary and lifestyle modifications as well as herbs and supplements.   Lab tests monitor various antibodies, inflammatory factors, hormones and nutrient levels to check improvement.  Mental illness symptoms are seen as wedded to intrinsic biological processes that can be improved when physical maladies are addressed.

While a functional medicine approach can be incredibly valuable, it differs from the approach of an herbalist.  I’ll digress for just a minute.  A functional medicine practitioner generally works with standardized herbs and tends to prescribe far more supplements.  Like traditional conventional medicine, the focus is generally on oral based approaches to health.  Herbal capsules and tinctures along with encapsulated supplements are the norm.

With a folk herbalist, a much larger circle is cast.   Tinctures, teas, syrups, oxymels, broth, aromatic oils, salves, unguents, bath salts, hydrosols, flower essences and smudge are often all part of the picture.  Preparations are often hand made and the focus is on the relationship to the plants themselves- the quality of the herbs, who gathered them and how the preparations are made.  In essence, the relationship to the “medicine” is as important as the “medicine” itself.  The goal is not necessarily just a gross medicinal effect, but also the ineffable qualities of connectedness, beauty, enrichment and relationship.

There is something invisible going on, perhaps even magical.  Think of picking up a bottle of supplements encased in plastic made in a distant lab somewhere.  Then consider picking up a steaming cup of tea made with fresh nettles gathered from a nearby farm.  Or consider picking up a beautiful blue bottle of tincture infused with motherwort, passionflower and california poppy gathered from a garden in midsummer. The taste, smell and flavor pour forth.  We can tell the difference between a bottle of plonk wine known as 2 buck chuck and a well aged pinot grown from grapes along a sun filled slope in a nearby valley.  The same is true for our medicines- we can detect quality and beauty.  These factors may never be picked up adequately by a scientific study- and the constituents may even be the same.  But there is something far different going on.  The quality of the “medicine” is vastly different”- and this quality does indeed affect our healing process.

 

Mental Health herbalism

The other aspect of a folk herbalist’s approach to mental health is to look at some of the larger picture of how mental health has been compromised.  Trauma, oppression, disconnection from nature, the stresses of modernity, isolation and challenges in access are often parts of the equation.  An herbalist will often focus on how to encourage their clients to become medicine makers themselves and to teach classes about wildcrafting, weeds, making medicines, ecology, growing herbs and reconnection to the local bioregion.

These are all ways to place the power of healing in the hands of the client.  Instead of a hierarchical relationship where doctor knows best, a folk herbalist sees their role as collaborative, helping the client to craft their own healing path.  This is especially important where there are so many specific cultural and neurodivergent ways of exploring health and wellbeing.  The process of learning, becoming attuned to the land, the plants and their cycles becomes as vital as taking medicine.  Again, the relationship is perhaps more important than the physical act of taking medicine.

Finally, a folk herbalist looks for patterns of disharmony in a variety of ways.  Often they will attend to a variety of health issues- from poor gut health, menstrual cycles, high blood pressure, deficiency, thyroid imbalances and inflammation. They will also look at the emotional challenges the person is experiencing- grief, loss, anxiety, confusion, sadness and despair.

The key thing here is to not say the word treat, medically intervene or cure.  The goal is pretty simple here- to help the client to build resiliency, strengthen and improve their ability to manage stress and triggers and to help them feel calmer and less overwhelmed and distressed.  Another way of seeing this is that our very simple goal is to try and help an individual shift to staying more in a parasympathetic “rest and digest” state and to reduce the tendency to stay in a heightened sympathetic “fight, flight or freeze” state.

 

Vantage and Fabric    On another level, I would say that the goal for working with clients comes in two parts- short and long term.  The first goal is to shift a person’s “Vantage”– their way of perceiving and sensing life.  Changing vantage happens when we relax into a warm bath, take a hike and see a beautiful vista, have a good heartwarming conversation with a friend,  or sip a gentle relaxant tea.   The client may have larger problems but for a moment, the vantage has shifted.  They are feeling more relaxed and at peace.

The greater goal is long term- to help an individual shift to a new “Fabric”– literally help them change their overall way of being in the world- from one of feeling stuck, overwhelmed, anxious in despair and sorrow- to one of feeling more completely changed- stronger, more resilient, happier day to day and less likely to be prone to flares of panic, anxiety and depression.   The herbalist works to offer tools to help change the vantage repeatedly until the individual more deeply shifts out of stuck and frozen places- until the entire fabric shifts.

Though this is the goal, there are many times when the reality is that one can not easily shift out of patterns of distress. The client may be stuck in an unhappy marriage, be dealing with a work situation that can’t easily change, or is experiencing grief, poverty or oppression at a high level.  In these cases, more gentle short term changes of vantage may be the whole goal- simply supporting a person as they go through tremendous stress and pain.

At a deeper level, the key work with plants is to help individuals to feel a sense of connection and pleasure.  Plants are masters of helping us do this- from eating a delightful meal garnished with Mediterranean herbs, to sipping a cup of rose, linden and passionflower tea, to taking a warm bath with a douglas fir hydorol to taking hikes in the deep forest and breathing in the scent of the land.  At the core, plants can build new memories of pleasure and connection that help us create a new life, a new fabric.  Without new memories of connectedness and joy, it can be hard to heal, hard to find meaning and establish a new sense of self.

This is why I emphasize experiential connection to the plant world, through creating group experiences that bring people to the plants, where they can make their own preparations and sensually delight in the plants themselves.  While a clinical herbalist may focus on the herbal constituents that help modify and heal an individual at a tissue level, I emphasize the importance of sensual connection to the plant world and the importance of working in supportive groups where a person feels reconnected, plugged in- can find meaning again.

OK all that being said what are the ways we can work with people?

 

Tea Infusions 

 

 

Consider working with tea blends that are aromatic, delight the senses while also helping relax the nervous system with secondary effects for different organ systems.   For all these teas, blend the ingredients and place them in a container.  Then take 1 -2 tablespoons per  pint of hot water. Steep for 10 minutes and then strain and sip.

 

Heartache Tea Blend- For those who are experiencing anxiety, worry and depression due to stress or trauma.  The heart spirit in Chinese medicine is known as the “Shen.”  When the shen is disturbed in chinese medicine by stress or trauma, the individual becomes overwhelmed, confused, sad with anxiety and perhaps insomnia.  An herbal blend like this can help relax and calm the spirit.

Linden   2 parts

Lemon Balm  2 parts

Rose  1 part

Motherwort   1 part

 

Digestive- This is a nice tea blend to offer to people who are feeling both anxious and also have some stagnation and inflammation in the gut.  The gut relaxes and becomes more motile and the nervous system calms so that food can be digested more easily. Please see this article entitled Trauma, The Gut and Healing:  Building Deep Resiliency for a much more comprehensive understanding of how to work with digestive concerns.

Chamomile- 2 parts

Lemon verbena- 2 parts

Mint- 1 part

Licorice- 1/4 part

 

Grief Relief

Hawthorn flower and leaf  – 2 parts

Lemon verbena- 2 parts

Holy Basil- 1 part

Passion Flower- 1 part

Mugwort 1/4 part

 

 

Tea Decoctions

 

 

A decoction is the process of bringing herbs to a boil and then simmering them for a period of time. Usually decoctions are for roots, bark, berries and other woody material with constituents that are hard to extract.   Most clients will not want to go to the trouble of making decoctions but it can be useful to have a few ideas for good decoctions for those who are wanting to work in this way.  Many of the more tonic adaptogenic herbs are roots that need to be decocted for a period of time.  Let’s take a look at  a few ideas:

 

Resiliency formula:  This is a great slightly warming tonic formula for improving overall stamina and resiliency.

American Ginseng 2 part

Codonopsis 2 part

Eleuthero 2 parts

Reishi 1 part

Licorice 1/4 part

Ginger  1/4 part

Mix ingredients and then take two heaping tablespoons and add to a pint of water in a pot.  Bring to a boil and then simmer for 30 minutes.  Strain and drink.

 

Sleep Formula

This is a variation on a traditional ayurvedic sleep remedy with ashwaghanda and clove.  Place 1 teaspoon of ashwaghanda powder and 1/8th teaspoon of clove powder in 1 cup of milk.  Bring the milk to a simmer while stirring in the powdered herbs.  Add a small spoon of honey for taste.  Drink 2 hours before bed.

 

Golden Milk

This is a classic formula for reducing inflammation and helping circulate blood flow.  Its a good remedy for those who appear cool, stagnant with signs of inflammation such as systemic arthritis.  The curcumin in turmeric has been shown to reduce the symptoms of autoimmune conditions. One should be careful that this is a heating formula and can create an imbalance with too much heat if taken to often, and especially for those with a hot and dry temperament.

1 tsp ground turmeric

1/4 tsp powdered cinnamon

1/2 tsp powdered ginger

1 cup of milk

Add herbs to milk in a pot and bring to a gentle simmer while stirring in herbs.  Let simmer for 5 minutes and then pour into a cup and drink.

 

Kava Milk

This is a variation on the traditional way of consuming kava.  Kava is one of our strongest anxiolytic herbs and this can be helpful for those trying to sleep or for those who are anxious with strong muscle rigidity and tightness.

4 tablespoons of kava

2 cups of milk (or high fat alternative milk such as coconut).

Place kava root in coffee grinder and powder.  Then place in a blender such as a vitamix.  Add milk and place blender on medium and allow for 3 minutes of blending.  The fat in the milk and the strong agitation will strip the relaxant kavalactones into the milk.  Then strain through a very fine mesh filter such as this one here.  

 

 

Nutritive

 

 

Nutritive Tea

This is a wonderful way to help someone who is depleted to regain strength and vitality.  Simply add one full cup of a blend of nettle, oat straw and red clover to a quart of hot water.  Allow to steep overnight and then strain and drink throughout the day.

 

 

Nutritive Syrup

 

Iron Rich Syrup:  This is a lovely tonic syrup for those who appear depleted, deficient, tired and sluggish. These herbs are filled with nutrients such as iron, magnesium and vitamin K.  (Avoid with blood thinners).

1 part kelp

1 part yellow dock root

1 part burdock root

1 part nettles

1 pint Molasses

Take 6 heaping tablespoons of the mix and add to a quart of water in  spot. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 45 minutes.  Then strain.  There should be about a pint of water extraction.  Add to that an equal pint of molasses and then store in the refrigerator.  Take 1-2 tablespoons a day.  Will last 15-30 days.

 

 

 

Mushrooms 

 

Mushroom medicine is one of the best ways to build strength and vitality.  You can make your own double extract by following the directions in my article on Red Belted Conk.    You can also simply have a crock pot going and add an assortment of mushrooms to the pot and take a cup a day of the tea.  The mushrooms can be removed after a few days and a new batch can be made.

Mushrooms that go great in a crock pot:

Turkey tail

Reishi

Red Belted Conk

Shitake

Maitake

Finally you may want to purchase mushroom extracts directly and I would recommend Jason Scott’s Spagyric essences from Feral Fungi.  I would also suggest Harmonic Arts’ blends.

 

 

 

Tinctures

I work with tinctures primarily for nervine relaxants and nervine tonics.  They are also good for some pain relief. In all of these combinations one can purchase or make the tinctures separately and then put them together with equal parts of each herb unless otherwise stated.  Here are some options:

Nervous System Restoration:  This is a blend of herbs that can be taken daily over a period of time to help restore the nervous system and strengthen resiliency and adaptability to stress.  This is wonderful for those with a long history of trauma, who are depleted from stress or who appear with mixed depression and anxiety.  Also useful for those with ADHD to stabilize the mood.

Milky Oats

Saint John’s Wort

Skullcap

Hawthorn

 

Uplifting:  This is a combination of herbs that is helpful for those with mild to moderate depression who are are feeling overwhelmed with life stressors and have become sad, frozen, disconnected.

Lemon Balm

Mimosa flower

Saint John’s Wort

 

Release Grief:  This combination has the ability to calm and relax while also allowing for grief and sadness to be expressed if it appears bottled up.  Its key to have someone help process that grief if the tincture elicits emotional release.

Peony

Cottonwood

Rose

Motherwort

 

Pain Relief This is a useful combination that relieves pain and specifically spasms and held tension in the body such as menstrual cramps, tight shoulders, a locked stomach or regular arthritic pain.

Jamaican Dogwood

Cramp bark

Devil’s Claw

California Poppy

 

Deep Calm  This is a good combination for folks experiencing generalized anxiety, or those with insomnia or prone to panic attacks.  This combination symptomatically relieve some of that anxiety for a short period.

Kava

Cramp bark

Lemon Balm

Passionflower

 

Heart Ease   This formula is for those who have experienced loss or trauma that feels stored in the heart area.  In Chinese medicine the term for this condition is Heart shen disturbance.  Symptoms may include high blood pressure, tachycardia, anxiety, insomnia and depression.

Reishi

Rose

Hawthorn

Lemon Balm

Motherwort

 

Deep Magic/Transformation  This is a combination for those who are wanting to make profound shifts in their life.  Often these plants will literally move the ground from under our feet so that we make changes even if we feel unready or are actively avoiding change through poor behavioral patterns, addictions and hiding.   Caution should be employed with this remedy as not everyone wants to unearth deeper wounds and make profound changes.

Devil’s Club

Mugwort

Elder

 

Broth

 

Broth is one of the key ways to return to health for those who appear weak, listeless, deficient with illness both physical and emotional increasingly prevalent.  Broth restores us, brings us deep resiliency, heals gut lining problems, improves motility and improves nutrient absorption.  This is a must for those who are needing core level healing.   You can make up bags of bone broth herbs to sell/offer to clients and encourage them to drink a cup of broth a day.

Here is the recipe:

Bone Broth with herbs:  Bone broth contains collagen that helps heal the gut lining.  The breakdown in the gut lining (leaky gut) allows for inflammatory compounds to pass through into the blood stream and cause systemic inflammation that has been implicated in both physical and mental illness symptoms.  When you add in an assortment of medicinal herbs you are augmenting the nutritional and tonic value of your bone broth to an amazing level.

 

Ingredients:

Big Stock pot that can hold a couple gallons of liquid.

Bones from a whole roast chicken (or 2-3 pounds of bones)

6 quarts of water

3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar

2 Cut up whole onions

6 cloves of garlic

 

1 tablespoon of codonopsis root

8 stalks of astragalus

1/2 cup of nettles

1/2 cup of burdock root

1 tablespoon of chopped rosemary

1 tablespoon of chopped sage

1 tablespoon of assorted seaweeds

12 shitake mushrooms.

 

 

Energetic Herbal Healing (Flower Essence/Drop Dose)

 

This category of herbs covers all those that are taken in minute doses.  A “Spirit Dose” of a plant is the process of taking a tincture in minute doses- usually 1-4 drops.  A flower essence contains no true herb in it but instead is the floral “imprint” of an herb that is carried in water that is preserved with brandy.  Both of these ways of healing involve helping the client to connect to the spiritual/energetic messages of the plant.  In this way, the plant acts as a key in the lock for helming people to shift through psychic and emotional blockages.  I generally work with tinctures as they also carry the taste of an herb that can have some medicinal effects, even at subtle levels, and also helps an individual connect to the plant better.  You may decide to work with a set of plants such as the Bach Flower Remedies or FES (Flower Essence Society) that are commonly known.

I prefer to work with the plants that grow around me in their native habitat.  Here are some of the plants I work with and their energetic imprints.  I categorize them according to one of the four elements.  This can help narrow down what type of plant you may want.

 

Fire Element-  For joy, life force, play, strengthening the heart, warming  and opening the spirit

 

Nettles (Urtica dioica)-  For martialing the vital forces, strengthening the will and building strength and courage

Douglas Fir- For standing tall, proud and strong, to reduce sadness and despair

Mimosa  For being playful, silly, whimsical, for insomnia, sadness

Reishi  For those who have experienced trauma, unsettled spirit, confusion, disconnection

Hawthorn  to warm the spirit, relax and soothe a troubled mind, to relax the heart and manage grief and protect against malevelonet forces.

Saint John’s Wort   For those who have lost vitality and joy in life, who feel distant, disconnected, anxious and sad

Rose   For those who have lost a sense of their good heart.  They  may have acted in poor or shameful ways, or someone has treated them very poorly.  Rose reminds us of our good hearts.

 

 

Air Element-   For strengthening the nervous system, reducing anxiety, improving intention, clarity, opens and establishing boundaries

 

Elder  For bringing the gap between this world and the next, death and dying work, grief work, for protection and for those with grief- especially held in the lungs.

California Poppy  For those who feel in deep emotional pain that is not easily lifted- there is a need for warm supportive holding here.

Lavender  For those whos s[pirits are anxious, unsettled and sad.  Lavender lifts, opens, disperses, brings smiles and a gentle playful heart

Rosemary  For those who feel cloudy, confused, dull and tired, ADHD, depression and memory loss issues.

Lemon Balm  For those who are wound up, overly hot, cant sleep well, feel overwhelmed and anxious.

Motherwort  For those with a sad heart, poor attachment as a child or trauma history, need “mothering”, soothing.

Yarrow  Yarrow holds us in, helps us to not disperse our energy to places where it is not honored (do not cast pearls before swine).  Yarrow protects by storing our energy, helps us become focused, singular, direct and clear with our words, intentions and boundaries.Good for those who have had their boundaries violated.

 

 

Earth Element-   For grounding, releasing toxic held frozen states, connecting and stabilizing

Burdock  For those who appear toxic, overloaded, stuck and tight with signs of frustration and anger that could easily explode dude to feeling obstructed.  Burdock settles the spirit, circulates and disperses dark and unhappy feelings.

Dandelion  Helps us find our joy, release unneeded held emotional states, giving away power.  Dandelion also teaches us tenacity, strength and blooming where one is planted.

Oregon Grape  This is for the person who needs to be more of a warrior, stand up for themselves and loved ones, fight off unneeded people, and release held felt tension.

Red Belted Conk  This is for those who appear weak, disconnected, mired in illness and depression.  Red Belted Conk brings back the will and life force, helps strengthen a person at their core.

Western Red Cedar  Supremely grounding with sweet loving energy.  Cedar helps relax, soothe and helps us to give in a good way with clear boundaries.

 

Water Element-  For exploring deeper held emotional spaces where we might be frozen in poor behaviors, actions, thinking patterns

 

Devil’s Club   This is a traditional plant for protection, good fortune and working between the worlds.  DC works with core wounds and helps people move through deep places of struggle where they are hiding, feel blocked and will not go to challenging places.  DC moves the energy, helps a person to make better choices, walk a better road and also helps us to stand tall and strong in our true authentic selves.  Careful with  this one- it can cause big shifts in people’s lives.

Black Cottonwood  For those who are holding deep grief and sadness.  Cottonwood helps people to release, open, cry and flow with life again after being frozen by grief and trauma.   Very soothing and gentle.

Mugwort  Traditionally and cross culturally mugwort helps move the energy, release stagnation and protect us from unwanted forces and people.  Mugwort will help us release and discharge and this plant show be used in a careful way.

Seaweed  Seaweeds dissolve and release stored hard deeply held emotional states, often connected to physical manifestations such as growths and autoimmune illnesses.

 

These herbs can be offered as singles or in formulas specific to an individual.  Some of these herbs blend quite magically together.  Here are some ideas:

To bring greater joy, pleasure in life, feelings of happiness: Mimosa, SJW, Douglas Fir

For grief and loss:  Rose, Hawthorn and Lemon balm

For trauma, shakiness, and sadness and confusion held in the heart:  Reishi, Hawthorn, Motherwort

For courage and strength: Douglas Fir, Nettles and Devil’s club

To dispel circular ruminative thinking:  Lavender, rosemary and lemon balm

For a loss of boundaries, trauma work, holding to oneself strong and true:  Yarrow, Devil’s Club, Oregon Grape

For working with ancestors, deep grief work:  Elder, Mugwort, Black cottonwood

For moving through addiction, poor habits, lack of authenticity: Devil’s Club, Yarrow, Cedar

For weakness, depletion, chronic illness:  Nettles, Red Belted Conk, Dandelion

For peace, calmness, grounding: Cedar, Rose, Black cottonwood

For cooling inflammation, feeling “wired”, overwhelmed:  Seaweed, Lemon balm, Burdock

For moving through big blocks:  Burdock, Devil’s Club, Mugwort

For dispelling negative influences, protection: Devil’s Club, Mugwort, Hawthorn

.

Aromatics

 

This is perhaps the best way to help people in distress- by subtly but quickly shifting their “vantage”.  Aromatics in the form of  roller balls, hydrosol sprays, therapeutic perfumes, bath salts, Incense, smoke medicine, oils and salves rarely have contraindications with medications and therefore are wonderful helpers for those on psych meds who can’t take herbal preparations orally.   These forms of healing can be offered to anyone.  The only key here is to make sure the individual is not “scent sensitive”.  This can be done simply through asking and then offering a few scents to find a good match.  Generally aromatic therapies can be offered in a number of ways:

.

 

Essential oils

This is the most common way of approaching the therapeutic use of scent these days but there should be a lot of caution here.  It takes a lot of plant material to produce a tiny amount of essential oil.  Various companies do not think about sustainability and also suggest methods (internal use) that are often dangerous.  That being said, E oils preserve well, can be mixed into a variety of preparations for therapeutic use.  In the best case world I would have people work with plants that are the least likely to be endangered by extracting oils from them (connifers, perennial bushes like lavender and rosemary, etc).   And in the best world I would have practitioners distill their own by purchasing and learning to use their own still.  The next best option is to purchase from reputable vendors.  See below for resources about that.

OK all of that being said, essential oils can be integrated into bath salts, candles, soaps and therapeutic applications (sprays, rollerballs) that are amazingly helpful for shifting vantage and improving mood and wellbeing.  Lets look at recipes for each one of them:

 

Bath Salts:  Relax blend. 

One quart epsom salts

1 tablespoon carrier oil (fractionated coconut oil, olive oil).  This can also be replaced with an infused oil such as cottonwood, lemon balm, douglas fir infused oil, etc.

8 drops douglas fir  eo

8 drops lavender   eo

4 drops frankincense  eo

Use half to all of the quart of the bath salts per one bath.

 

Roller Balls

This is a fabulous way to work with people who are struggling.  You can offer a number of different types of roller balls for each individual.  They can also be applied directly to calming acupuncture spots as a way of increasing the efficacy of this technique.  So for example, you can suggest to a client that they apply a small amount to the heart, the temples, behind the ears and to calming spots such as heart 7 and pericardium 6 (please google).  One can also use soothing words while this is being done- such as “I am feeling increasingly relaxed and at peace.”  “I am  strong and calm.”  “I release my anger and rage”.  And so on.

In one 10 ml roller ball fill almost to the top with fractionated coconut oil.  Here are a variety of recipes:

 

Calm and ground:

10 drops lavender

5 drops lemongrass

5 drops frankincense

 

Release tension and sadness:

!0 drops black cottonwood

5 drops lavender

2 drops Western Red Cedar

 

Uplift 

10 drops Douglas Fir

5 drops Lemon Verbena

5 drops Spruce

 

Diffusers

One other way to work with essential oils is through putting them in diffusers.  The simplest kind is a ceramic device where the oils are placed above and a candle is lit below to gently heat and diffuse the volatiles.  More commonly, people are buying electronic diffusers where the essential oil is added to water and then the heating element heats up the oil and essential oil mixture to diffuse it gently into the air.  Small amounts of essential oil can last a long way in this manner.  However, there is no control here and some people with sensitivities might not appreciate a room filled with a particular scent.  Certain oils can be challenging for cats and dogs and they should be avoided in houses with small pets.

 

Hydrosols

 

When a plant is distilled, one receives a small amount of essential oil (with aromatic plants) and a much larger portion of water that is infused with very tiny aromatic particles that diffuse throughout the water. This is known as a hydrosol.  Increasingly practitioners are working with hydrosols because they are more abundant and safer. There are a variety of ways to work with hydrosols with clients.  The simplest is to suggest them spraying it into a room for the clearing and uplifting effect. Some great ones to try:

Douglas Fir

Western Red Cedar

Lemon Balm

Rose

Orange

Sweetgrass

Lavender

They can also be blended to make combinations.  Its great to offer a saying or self talk that can be added to the spray when they are using it.  Other ways to work with hydrosols include adding them to one’s baths, to foot soaks, as cleaners that uplift the house/apartment and to take in minute doses (1/2 to 1 teaspoon) for their energetic effect.

 

Infused oils/salves

Another way to work with aromatic plants is to make infused oils.  That simply means to take plant matter and infuse them in oil in a variety of ways.  A cold infusion simply means placing plant material in a mason jar and leaving a couple inches at the top with oil poured to the top.  The infusion is then left to macerate for a couple weeks in a warm place and then strained out.  Sometimes repeated infusions is helpful for extracting the best smell from plants. A warm infusion involves macerating the plant material  ion warm oil on a stove top usually in a double boiler.  The aromatics infuse faster this way but sometimes some of the more volatile “top notes” are evaporated by the heat.

Infused oils can be applied directly as self-massage or beeswax can be added in a double boiler to turn them into salves.  In Ayurveda, the practice of abhyanga involves applying aromatic oils to the body for relaxation and healing.  One can offer small 1 or 2 ounce bottles of specially made infused oils for those who are struggling with anxiety and depression.  Some good examples of infused oils for abhyanga:

Lemon Balm- for anxiety

Saint John’s Wort- For neuralgic pain, shingles, fibromyalgia and nervous system relaxation

Lavender- uplifting, relaxing

Rosemary- stimulating, slightly warming

Yarrow oil- to heal small cuts and scrapes and bruising, for protection, boundary loss

Devil’s Club OIl- for protection and strength

Peppermint oil- Stimulating, opening, mood lifting

Cottonwood oil- Relaxing, warming, gently calming and helps with grief and sorrow.

These oils can also be used a s abase with additional essential oils added for a stronger scent profile.

 

Incense/Smoke medicine

One of the oldest ways to work with aromatics is through incense and smoke medicine/smudge.  This doesn’t work for a number of people who are sensitive to smoke inhalation but is a time honored and cross-cultural way of bringing scent to an individual.  I will not go through the complex process of teaching how to make incense but there are a variety of purveyors who offer really beautiful preparations that can be burnt for their healing properties.

Smoke medicine/smudge is a more common and easier way to diffuse aromatics.  They can be offered to clients who want to use them at home to lift the mood and clear energy.  There has been a move amongst herbalists to use more garden grown herbs and away from using plant material that is not sustainable or is endangering certain plants.

Here are some options:

Western Red Cedar:  A lovely sweet and grounding scent.  Commonly used throughout the Northwest amongst indigenous folks, cedar also can be wildcrafted in a sustainable way.

Palo Santo- Gathered from trees in South America, palo santo has become increasingly popular and therefore increasingly endangered.  It is a lovely warming, relaxing, grounding and clearing scent.  There are some reputable vendors who obtain it from sustainable sources.  (See below).

Mugwort-  Commonly used in many different cultures, mugwort has been used to clear, protect and to remove entities/posession from individuals cross culturally.  IN Chinese medicine it is used to “move qi”, help warm the channels and remove obstructions/stagnation.  Mugwort has a particularly strong odor that not everyone loves.

Sagebrush-  In the Western deserts, sagebrush is a common sight and this is a wonderful plant to burn for its relaxing, potent, clearing and moving qualities.  As a cousin to mugwort it has similar ability to clear, expel and remove obstruction.

Garden Sage- Yes your garden sage can be smudged.  It has quite a nice uplifting and potent scent that is good for clearing, cleansing and dispersing negative energies.

Sweetgrass- Commonly used amongst indigenous native people here, sweetgrass is as it sounds- sweet.  The energy is very gentle, relaxing and grounding- perfect for a very anxious and unsettled soul.

Frankincense- As an ancient tree resin, frankincense has long been used in rituals and in religious ceremony for its ability to clear space, ground and provide space for healing.  Frankincense can be burnt by itself and is more commonly dispersed as an essential oil these days in the West.

Copal- This is a tree resin found in mesoamerica and commonly burnt in traditional ceremonies going back to to Mayan times.  Copal trees are critically endangered so I avoid buying this resin.

Rosemary- This is another garden herb that can be added to smoke wands along with others such as garden sage, mullein and lavender.  Rosemary has a nice stimulating, elevating, moving and clearing energy.

 

Nature Immersion 

The last way for clients to improve emotional wellbeing and mood is via nature based immersion.  Garden therapy, forest bathing, ecotherapy and hiking are all ways for people to reconnect to the natural world in ways that will improve mood and wellbeing for virtually everyone.  In the psychiatric hospital where I used to work there was a therapeutic garden.  When clients with severe mental illness went outside away from florescent lights and narrow corridors, their eyes brightened, their hearts began to shine a bit more.  Taking clients on walk, hikes or doing immersive work in a garden setting are time honored cross cultural ways of helping people to heal.

 

 

Purchase- Suppliers

I could reinvent the wheel but for now I will just link to Chestnut Herbs amazing list of herbal resources.

 

General Herbal Websites

Herbal Blogs

Herbal Conferences

Herbal Nurseries / Seed Resources

Herbal Organizations / Publications

Herbal Schools

Miscellaneous

Permaculture

Primitive Skills

Supplies – herbs and accoutrements

Wild Foods

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