Podcast 110: New Moon Down Time

It’s really hard to really take a break these days – with smartphones and connected devices everywhere, the pressure to use our time “productively” is pervasive. But that doesn’t mean humans can actually keep up that pace, and it has all kinds of health effects to try!

So this year one thing that we’re doing to stay centered is building a New Moon tradition. The idea came out of the way that we celebrate Solstice: we don’t use any electric lights all day, lighting candles in the evening and leisurely talking, reading, daydreaming, knitting… anything but working. This year we realized, we could do it every New Moon!

In this episode we share our reasons for totally unplugging for one day every month, and the plans (and plants!) that help us pull it off. Our hope is to inspire you to see if you can fit something similar into your own life. One day with no media, no electronics, no work, no “real” “productivity” (according to post-industrialized consumer-culture standards, that is).

Herbs discussed include chamomile, catnip, betony, damiana, motherwort, & blue vervain.

As always, please subscribe, rate, & review our podcast wherever you listen, so others can find it more easily. Thank you!!

Our theme music is “Wings” by Nicolai Heidlas.


Episode Transcript

Katja: 00:00:01 Hi, I’m Katja.

Ryn:: 00:00:15 And I’m Ryn.

Katja: 00:00:15 And we’re here at the Commonwealth Center for Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.

Ryn:: 00:00:19 And on the internet everywhere. Thanks to the power of the podcast. Well, this time we’re going to talk about being calm and quiet and resty and recovery.

Katja: 00:00:32 yes

Ryn:: 00:00:32 All of those sorts of things.

Katja: 00:00:34 Yes. Today is the new moon. It is the new moon in January. And we committed ourselves to a new project this year of using the phases of the moon or like aligning a scheduled break with the phases of the moon. So that’s what we want to talk about today. Yeah. But before we do that,

Ryn:: 00:01:02 yeah. Before we do that, let’s give you the reclaimer. So this is where we remind you like every week that we are not doctors, we are herbalists and holistic health educators.

Katja: 00:01:12 The ideas discussed in this podcast do not constitute medical advice, no state or federal authority licenses herbalists in the United States. So these discussions are for educational purposes only. Everybody’s body is different. So the things that we’re talking about may or may not apply directly to you, but we hope that they’ll give you some good information to think about and to research more.

Ryn:: 00:01:33 And we want to remind you that good health is your own personal responsibility. The final decision when considering any course of therapy, whether it’s discussed on the internet or prescribed by a physician, is actually yours.

Katja: 00:01:45 Wow. The herbs are enthusiastic about that.

Ryn:: 00:01:47 They agree with it. Yeah.

Katja: 00:01:49 Excellent.

Ryn:: 00:01:51 So, um, you want to get us started?

Katja: 00:01:53 Yeah. Well we’ve just been thinking about how hard it is to really take a break these days, These days, like in our current culture. Because there is media literally everywhere. It’s really hard to escape it. And the pressure to use our time productively is also really pervasive in our culture. But the thing is that just because that’s what our culture is geared towards right now doesn’t mean that humans can actually keep up this kind of pace. We can’t. Just because we want to, it doesn’t mean that we can. And trying to do it has all kinds of health effects that are not awesome. Yeah.

Ryn:: 00:02:41 Yeah. I mean, you know, what was it last year? The WHO, the world health organization decided that burnout is real. It’s an official thing. And, okay, now let’s get a medical billing code for it. And all of that. But it’s an acknowledgement of a phenomenon that many people have experienced and observed. So whatever that counts for is something.

Burnout is Real

Katja: 00:03:06 You know, actually I’m really grateful for that because I think that a lot of people experience burnout. And like medically and culturally, that’s like, well, so what everybody’s burnt out. Like that’s no big deal. And I am really excited to see that we are making the choice to recognize that it in fact is a big deal. And you don’t need any more real diagnosis than that. It already is a real thing that really needs attention. Yeah.

Ryn:: 00:03:43 Cool. And you know, we like to think about preventive medicines. So preventive medicine for burnout is rest.

Katja: 00:03:51 Yeah. Well, in our own lives too, we do a lot. And we are excited about the things that we’re doing. We’re excited about all of our projects. But being excited about it doesn’t mean that you don’t need a break from it sometimes. And it’s hard to take a break. It’s hard for us to take a break. So this year, one thing that we’re trying to do, no, we’re not trying to do it. We are committed, we are committed to doing it, is to build a tradition around the new moon every month. And the idea came out of the way that we celebrate solstice.

Ryn:: 00:04:36 Yeah, so on the solstice day, particularly thinking here, the winter solstice.

Katja: 00:04:39 The winter solstice. December solstice is different.

Ryn:: 00:04:42 That’s more for being outside and running around and having a big fire and all that. So with winter solstice we like to use absolute minimal electricity possible. Maybe some nice music, you know, and maybe a little heat in the house, but we’re trying to just not turn on any machines, right. Computers and phone, TV and whatever else. Just put them over there and leave them alone for a day and have lots of candles and have lots of reading and cuddling and quiet time. And just to spend a day that way. And it’s always really delightful and really restorative. Sometimes it takes a moment or two to get into it and like, huh, kind of where’s my Twitter feed? You know? But you get past that pretty quick and you settle in and you’re like, Oh, this is wonderful actually.

Katja: 00:05:35 Yeah.

Ryn:: 00:05:36 So that’s been our solstice habit for over a decade now. And you know, you introduced me to a lot of those ideas on our first solstice together. And this year, just a few weeks ago, I suppose.

Katja: 00:05:51 I can’t believe that it was in fact something ago that could be measured in weeks.

Ryn:: 00:05:51 Yeah, yeah. We were having solstice day and feeling pretty delightful and thinking, Hey, maybe we should do this a little more frequently.

Katja: 00:06:05 Yeah. Like, Oh man, I wish we could have solstice every month. And then we’re like, wait, we can. Like we could in fact do that.

Ryn:: 00:06:14 Yeah. And you know we both have these you know, like you write a few lines every day and the book contains five years worth of entries. And you were looking back at literally a year before and saying, Oh, I had the exact same idea then.

Katja: 00:06:28 I had the same idea last year and we didn’t do it and it just went nowhere. And then this year, yeah, during solstice we talked about it and then went to bed and I was writing in the journal and I looked at last year and I was like, this is not a new idea. This was last year’s idea. And then we were like, okay, this year we are committing to it.

Ryn:: 00:06:45 It’s actually going to happen.

Katja: 00:06:45 We are going to make it happen this year. Yeah.

Ryn:: 00:06:48 So that involved like writing it on the calendars and…

Unplugging Once a Month

Katja: 00:06:51 That was the first step, right. Is to say that if we are going to take a day to just turn everything off and turn ourselves off, we have to plan that. It’s not going to happen unless you plan it. So yeah, we wrote every new moon on the calendar. And that was the first concrete step. Yeah.

Ryn:: 00:07:18 So, yeah. So let’s talk a little bit about our plans here for unplugging one day every month to inspire you a little bit and see if maybe you could fit something similar into your own life. Now look, it might be more ideal to totally unplug once a week, you know, treat Sunday like it used to be, you know. Or like it used to be for some people and sometimes in some places you get what I’m saying.

Katja: 00:07:44 And, or you know, like in the Jewish tradition, there’s a practice of having one day a week where no work is done. If you look through history, if you look across cultures, the one day a week to turn everything off is actually very, very common. And people have always worked hard. We’re not like the first people in history to work hard. Maybe at the pace that we’re at right now. But whatever. But just to acknowledge that humans have always recognized that this is necessary.

Ryn:: 00:08:24 So it might be nice if we could do that every day or it might be nice if we could ditch all of our machines and never look at them again. But this is the world we live in and that’s not particularly realistic.

Katja: 00:08:35 You know, some of the stuff is good. Like if we ditched all the machines and then you wouldn’t have this podcast.

Ryn:: 00:08:40 Well there is that. Yeah. I mean, some media can be good and uplifting and so it’s just about finding a balance here. You know, what’s the balance between media saturation and media abstention?

Katja: 00:08:56 Like something in the middle. Yeah. Well, so for us it feels like once a month is totally achievable. And so for us that’s going to look like no media, no electronics. I mean maybe some soft music, stuff like that.

Ryn:: 00:09:17 Media, I mean, I guess books count technically.

Katja: 00:09:20 Like technically media, but no electronic media, except for like some quiet music. No work except like doing the dishes from dinner. Maybe you know that, that seems fine. But like this is not a time to catch up on the laundry. That can happen on some other day. This one day is not for chores. It’s not for Oh good. Finally I can run to the grocery store. Like that’s not, that’s not on the list. Really, just trying to not be productive on that day, which also like needs a little bit of definition. Because I suppose knitting is productivity. Like you are creating a thing. But like not work productive.

Ryn:: 00:10:06 We’re trying to give your internal middle manager the day off. Right. Trying to tell that voice that says, what if you were working on this project? Oh, you didn’t finish that yet. Oh you have that email reply, you’re supposed to be writing. Just to day, all right. Yeah, that’s all true. But it can also wait. You know, it can wait a whole day and that’s fine.

Katja: 00:10:28 Yes. One day will be okay. So the things that we’re going to focus on are either being in nature, like going out for a walk. Or doing tangible artistic things. So knitting falls in that category or maybe drawing or whatever. Listening to some quiet music or better making some music. So I definitely intend to practice my harp a lot.

Ryn:: 00:10:57 You’ve been doing it?

Katja: 00:10:58 I’ve been doing it.

Ryn:: 00:10:59 It’s lovely. It’s wonderful. It’s a great instrument y’all, because it’s impossible to make a harp sound bad. So if anybody is out there wondering like, Hmm, what could I learn that wouldn’t annoy all the people around me? It turns out, I mean, I’d be delighted if you took up violin as wel.

Katja: 00:11:16 It might be skreetchy for a minute.

Ryn:: 00:11:19 That seems to be the way that goes. Yeah. And like, you know, making some lovely meals and having a pleasant time together in the kitchen while we do that.

Katja: 00:11:32 Not being too busy for all the vegetables. Yeah.

Ryn:: 00:11:36 I’ve been thinking like maybe this would be a nice day to go and press out all of these tinctures that have been patiently waiting. But you know, only if in the sense of it being kind of pleasant and enjoyable and like, Oh yeah, I actually enjoy doing this. Not in the sense of, Oh, I have free-clinic tonight and I didn’t press out that tincture that I know someone’s going to need. And I’ve got to do that between this email I write and that text message I have to answer and you know. But in a completely different way of, I’m going to take a little while and play with some of these wonderful plant medicines that we’ve got over here. Yeah, this is great. Oh, doesn’t that smell good. You know, and you can hear like, so much of this is about getting into the present moment, getting into your senses, and doing things or being places that enhance that. Right? You take a nice long hike, a nice walk in the forest and there you are, you’re just present with the trees. Yeah. So that’s what we’re looking for.

Forest Walking and Immunity

Katja: 00:12:32 Oh, this week. So we’ve been filming more videos for the immune health course and this week I found this great study that walking in a pine forest increases your CD 57 count or your natural killer cells. And that’s part of your immune function. And we already know that walking in a forest and especially in a coniferous forest, there’s like an exchange of lots of phytochemicals going on.

Ryn:: 00:13:10 It was a comparison study, right? It was like you can walk in a city, you can walk in the forest, you do this and you get these benefits. And so that says it’s not just the walking that counts. Right. It also means like you won’t get that full benefit if you’re on your treadmill. Go outside. Find some pine trees, follow them around.

Katja: 00:13:27 Follow them around. They don’t move very fast. That’s okay.

Ryn:: 00:13:33 You can follow that too. It could be good.

Katja: 00:13:36 I was happy to find that partially because I love posting interesting studies in our online program for our students. But also because one of the big factors in burnout, one of the big factors in never taking a break is that your immune system never gets to catch up. And it really makes you susceptible to basically everything that comes your way. So if you are that kind of person who like you just catch everything, then maybe what that is telling you is Oh, maybe you need a day off sometimes.

Ryn:: 00:14:11 Right. Which is a very different way of thinking, opposed to like, what do I need to add? Or where’s the herb that I can take that’s going to fix this for me. What can I put into my life rather than what can I like set aside? At least for a little while, you know, not forever. You’re not going to abandon your responsibilities, obviously. But for a little while. And the attachment to the moon is because it gives you something cyclic. It’s going to come every month and it’s also a real thing, right. So it’s not exactly quite the same as saying, all right, every month on the fifth we’re going to do this.

Katja: 00:14:48 Or like once a month at a non-specified time. Well, exactly when, once a month? Once a month we’re going to do this. You won’t be successful that way.

Ryn:: 00:14:59 Yeah. That one’s not trustworthy, But you know, the new moon is a real thing. You can observe it. You can go outside in the nighttime and look up and say, Oh, look at that black spot. I see you there. Yeah. It’s a reminder. Right. If you say, I’m going to do this once a month, it might not happen. There’s not a structure to it. So this gives you a construct. It gives you that kind of a structure,

Katja: 00:15:26 You know, the new moon is also, if you’re into this kind of thing, it is traditionally a time for introspection. We used to not carry calendars around in our pockets or in our bags or whatever. And so the moon really was a calendar and helped us to orient and organize our lives. And so the dark of the moon time was also that time of like, okay, that’s my introspection time. That’s my sort of me time. And so that feels like a really lovely thing to align with, to build this practice.

Ryn:: 00:16:09 Yeah, definitely. All right. And then the other thing here that is actually quite helpful for those of us living in the modern world is that the new moon isn’t only a single day. It actually takes place over three days. Right. And I mean, the middle one is kind of the peak moment. But still, like, the new moon, there’s a time. And when you’re looking up at it, you’re like, yeah, there’s a new moon up there. Okay. Yeah. So that means that you’ve got a little bit of flexibility here, right? You’ve got the day before, you’ve got the day of and the day after and they all count. Yes. And that’s handy because let’s say that maybe the new moon falls on this day that you absolutely cannot take off. You have a big presentation, there’s a conference you are going to be at. There’s, I don’t know what. Something’s going down. You’re going to be there for that. Okay. But probably the next day or some other day around there in that time frame, it could still work for you. Yeah. So that’s been something that we’ve been kind of banking on.

Katja: 00:17:12 Actually we are taking advantage of that today because today is the astronomical new moon. But we really wanted the pod to go out today. So we decided that, and also tomorrow it’s going to rain really hard, which I feel a lot of gratitude for. I would prefer if it were snow. But I’ll be happy for the rain too. And I feel like that is also helpful in like, okay, I’m just going to chill out. It’s raining. I’m gonna just intentionally be not productive on this day when I don’t want to be productive anyway. So tomorrow still counts as one of the days of the full moon. So we’re going to have our actual observance tomorrow.

State of Stress

Ryn:: 00:17:57 Yeah. So there’s some structure, but there’s also some flexibility. Really nice. Yeah. All right. So you know, again, like why bother? Well, cause you reduce stress. Oh, that sounds nice. Yes. We would all like to have less. Wouldn’t that be lovely?

Katja: 00:18:11 That sounds so optional.

Ryn:: 00:18:13 What a luxury that is.

Katja: 00:18:14 Like, Oh, it would be nice to have less stress, you know, but then what’s the next thing that comes to your mind? Well, I don’t have time for that. Like there’s too much going on in my life right now. The kids have to be wherever they are. The work has to whatever. And I have to get the groceries. And, Oh, the laundry. And, you guys, there’s a pile of laundry in our bedroom right now. I just thought I would admit that right here. You know, that’s true for everybody. Like it’s really true for everybody. And so at some point you have to make the choice to say there will never be a convenient time. And therefore there will never be a convenient time and I can’t live this way. I can’t live stressed out all the time so I’m going to allow one day a month to not care that there’s laundry on the floor and to just not anything that day.

Ryn:: 00:19:19 It can be difficult but it’s also quite important and when we think specifically about what, what are the physiological impacts of taking a break like this? Well, you’re allowing your body that chance to come down out of that fight or flight. That activated, that alertness. It’s important to understand, these are like on a spectrum, you know. So we sometimes talk about being either in rest and digest mode or in fight and flight mode as if there was no in between. Right. It’s like one switch you go between. But really, these are like a spectrum. And on the far side of rest and digest you have sleep. And then you have like, I don’t know, I guess dozing and daydreaming would be somewhere over there. Yeah.

Katja: 00:20:03 And then like, you know, resting or like relaxing activities. Like okay, maybe playing a musical instrument or something.

Ryn:: 00:20:13 Eating a meal the way the French do. Take several hours. Things like that. You know, so all of these kind of things. And then at some point there’s ….

Katja: 00:20:22 Petting your cat. Yeah.

Ryn:: 00:20:24 And then you know, it can be a little more active and then there’s kind of a middle point somewhere in there. And then you go to like, okay, I’m alert and I’m paying attention. I’m looking around. And then I’m aware, I’m like, Hmm, okay. Maybe I don’t know this neighborhood too well. I’m extra like I’m just keeping my eyes and ears open. All right. All right. And there’s a long way before you get to the fight or flight response.

Katja: 00:20:44 I am actually currently actively being chased by a tiger. Yeah. But the thing I think is that when you think about that spectrum and think about where you fall on it, most people in this place and in this time are falling in this low level part of the fight or flight side of that spectrum. And so it’s just this constant low level perception of threat or a constant low level stimulation of the entire hormonal side of the stress response. Like it isn’t just when we just say like well I’m stressed, it’s not abstract. Like it is an actual endocrine state. And I think that right now most people exist in that endocrine state of kind of stressed, kind of agitated.

Ryn:: 00:21:42 Yeah. Which by some measures is actually more problematic for us. Then occasionally dipping into full on fight or flight mode. Right. If you’re going along and a bear, you run and you climb the tree, you do whatever you do. Okay. The bear goes away. Climb down out of your tree. Okay. Take a breath. All right.

Katja: 00:22:03 Boy that was scary.

Ryn:: 00:22:07 Yeah. Our bodies are prepared for that to happen every now and again. They’re not so particularly well prepared by our evolutionary unfolding to deal with that sort of like you say, low level ongoing stress for extended periods of time, up to and including most of your life. That’s a different phenomenon and the body doesn’t really respond to that very well,

Katja: 00:22:33 You know, while we’re sort of in that kind of endocrine mindset, so one of the hormones that we respond to when we’re under stress, even if it’s like pervasive, low-level stress is cortisol. And cortisol is an important hormone. You need it, it does important work. And so, I don’t know, maybe five or 10 years ago they came up with this hypercortisolemia diagnosis. And I really felt upset about that because diagnosing a state of too much cortisol is actually kind of a misnomer. It’s more like I am in a state of too much stimulation to create cortisol, right? Having the cortisol is a response. And so I don’t want to see people think I have too much cortisol. I need to suppress some cortisol. I want people to think I am creating too much cortisol. I need to stop creating so much. And I know that’s really subtle. But to stop creating so much, you rest. You take a break. And I would like the focus to stay in that place of what is causing me to create so much cortisol instead of let’s turn off the creation of your cortisol.

Ryn:: 00:24:06 Yeah. Right? The framing of it as like, Oh, there’s too much cortisol here and that’s the problem, frames it as, well, the solution is to just take it away. Or to say, something went wrong, and that’s why you were making too much. Rather than something completely normal and to be expected happened. And that’s why you were making too much.

Katja: 00:24:27 Right. Any human in the situation that you’re in will respond this way. You’re not broken. But the situation you’re in is not conducive to human health.

Ryn:: 00:24:40 So to wind it back to like new moon day, this is a way to, I don’t want to say to balance out because that would sort of imply there were some scaless and we’re like, yeah, one day of rest a month that’s going to take care of all of your stress. You’re totally great. But it will help and it could help quite a lot. And it may also be that if this becomes a habit for awhile, then it creeps over into some other areas of your life. And you might start to find it a little easier here and there on a pleasant evening, regardless of what the moon is up to, to say, yeah, I’m going to have a quiet evening and I’m just gonna put that stuff aside for now.

Katja: 00:25:16 It’s a practice, it’s a practice. And right now we are all practicing constant alertness. We are training ourselves to be constantly productive, to be constantly on call all of the time. And we have to practice not being productive 100% of the time. It is not easy because we have been practicing this other thing for so long. But as we build this practice, as we regularly do this, we get better at it and we start to say, Oh, this is actually pretty nice. Instead of like, well this is the only way I know how to exist in the world is whenever anybody asks how I am, I say busy. And like you’re not bad if you do that. We do that too. That’s what our culture does right now. But we forgotten like how do you sit still and not look at your phone? It’s not easy to do. And part of that is also hormonal and neurotransmitter.

Ryn:: 00:26:31 You get that dopamine fix every single time you pick that thing up. So, it’s really hard to stop.

Katja: 00:26:31 And they do that on purpose. They program it in that way because they want you to be engaged with it. They, you know, corporate whatever. The producers of the things. But yeah, this is a practice. It gets easier every time you do it. And then yes, it starts to creep in. And it starts to become easier to say, I can shift into that place for the next hour tonight because I know what it feels like to get there and I know what the thing is that I’m trying to achieve. So like in the beginning it might take a whole day to figure out like how do I sit calmly? Like how do I walk calmly. How do I not produce calmly. But eventually you start to really become familiar with that state and with that feeling and so you can call on it. You can bring it in on a day that you are like, well, I’ve got a half an hour and I really want to unplug for half an hour in this day. You’ve practiced, you know how to do it now and you can just call it in for that amount of time.

Finding Perspective

Ryn:: 00:27:49 Cool. Well, you know, new moon day can also help provide a little bit of perspective on some things because sometimes you just need to take a step back. You need to get away a little bit, even if you’re not actually going anywhere, you know. Just like turning some things off, stepping away from that influence for a moment that can help you to see things in your life a little bit differently. So we’re all pretty familiar with computers and machines and you know that occasionally something weird happens and gets a little stuck and troublesome and isn’t working the way you’d like. And what should you do then. You should restart, reboot, turn it off, turn it on again and see if that does it.

Katja: 00:28:30 And like how many times does that actually just fix everything? Kind of frequently. Remember that time? It wasn’t even that long ago. Something was going wrong in your phone and you were like, I can’t get this. I dunno what

Ryn:: 00:28:44 it was so weird. It wouldn’t pick up cell signals and it was…

Katja: 00:28:47 And like you made an appointment.

Ryn:: 00:28:49 I was messing around with it. I was calling for help. And then I was chatting to some help person online and they were like, well, did you try turning it off and on again? And I was like, Oh my God. Right. Because like the newer machines, you don’t have to do it every single day.

Katja: 00:29:05 Right. Remember when you had you like it would break down if you didn’t. We are still that, you know. We are absolutely that.

Ryn:: 00:29:14 We, the humans, you know.

Katja: 00:29:15 We the humans. Yes. We are not the new iPhones where if you turn it off once a month, it’s sufficient.

Ryn:: 00:29:21 So yeah, If you’re working along, you can’t solve a problem. Walk away, turn around, take a walk, take 10 or 15 minutes, play with the dog. That helps a lot to give you a break. Let some of that processing happen in the back of the mind where your consciousness can’t get in the way for a little while. And then you come back and you look at it and things are fresh, right? So that’s true all the time. That’s true in everyday life too.

Katja: 00:29:54 You know, when I was a software engineer a million years ago, we had like ping pong tables. And every so often there would be a hacky sack circle taped down on the floor. We had a foosball table all these different things. And on one hand that made for a very fun, exciting work environment. And it was enticing for the company to gain talent and whatever. But the actual reason for it is because when we couldn’t solve a problem and we were, well, we don’t know. I don’t know. I can’t figure out how to make the computer do what I want it to do. Then we would go and play ping pong or play hacky sack or whatever. And you do that for 15 minutes. And by the end of the ping pong game, you know in the beginning you’re just playing ping pong because whatever, and towards the end you’re starting to talk about the problem and then you’re like, wait a got it. You know, and I worked this way, like this was a really important part of my work life. And yet it is hard for me to carry that into my personal life. But how many times in a day do you have a personal problem? Whether it is, I can’t work out the logistics of all of the moving parts of my day. The kids have to get here, the this, the that, all the different things have to … I’m supposed to be in two places at once. I can’t work this out. And also I can’t say no to either one of them. And also I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, like none of these things will work. I actually know the answer to that problem is walk away, do something totally different for a few minutes, preferably something physical, and then come back and you’re like, Oh, actually, okay. Yeah, I see how I could make this work. And even though that was a formative part of my becoming a gainfully employed, employed adult. A person doing the adult thing in the workplace. It was hard and it had to be very intentional to translate that into my personal life. But I feel like that’s what this practice is too. And so whether it is you’re doing some work and you get up and you take a walk, fine. Or whether it is like, I need to do that on a larger scale for my whole life for a minute. It makes problems easier to solve regardless of what that problem is.

Ryn:: 00:32:35 Yeah. All right. Well, one thing that can help, if this seems appealing, but maybe you’re a little uncertain or you’re like, I don’t know if I’m going to stick to it.

Katja: 00:32:47 Or maybe the idea of not checking your phone for a whole day is creating some anxiety. If that is true, there is no shame in that. Remember, the phones are programming us. And so if that is a thing for you, it’s because you’ve been programmed that way. It’s not because you’re a bad person or because like whatever. It’s because the phone has programmed you that way. So it’s okay if you’re like, I don’t know if I can, you know. But herbs can help.

Herbs Can Help: New Moon Tea Blend

Ryn:: 00:33:23 Herbs can help. Because we are herbalists after all, so here we go. We think it’s really a great idea to make a new moon blend, right. To have a particular formula that you’re going to reserve specifically for this day of the month or for this time that you’re taking. In general, having a particular herbal formula, especially one with a distinctive taste or smell or other kind of sensory qualities is a really great way to kind of shortcut yourself into a particular state of mind, state of body, state of being when you take it in a consistent recurrent context.

Katja: 00:34:06 I mean, because that’s programming too. It’s Pavlovian.

Ryn:: 00:34:10 Yes exactly. Yeah. So you make up the blend and it has this particular flavor and it’s this particular set of herbs and you reserve it for those particular days and times. And after a little bit of repetition, your body starts to make those connections. And so now when you drink that tea, your body says, I know what’s going on. I know what day it is.

Katja: 00:34:31 Yeah. Not turn on any of the worry circuits. And it’s this wonderful spiraling feedback because the herbs themselves, the herbs that we choose to help us with this work are herbs who are going to help us relax those impulses. And then as we relax the impulses, we associate that feeling with those herbs and they are going to continue to help that process. And then we’re going to continue to associate it with that. And so both of the things are happening simultaneously. It’s true. It’s true on both sides. Yes, we are making that sort of Pavlovian association. But also, yes, the herbs are powerfully assisting in the actual work that we’re trying to associate ourselves with.

Ryn:: 00:35:22 Right. Yeah. And you could build this out if you want, you could have a little box or a little shelf and it could have your new moon tea. And you could have a room spray. And there could be this particular incense you burn on those days and a little elixir you put together. Right. So you can carry this idea and play with it in lots of ways. But let’s start with a tea blend.


Katja: 00:35:38 Yeah. Well, this morning we came up with one for this new moon and I’ll read the whole thing out first and then we can talk about it. It’s going to be Chamomile, Catnip, Betony, Damiana, Motherwort, and Vervain. So maybe we start with Chamomile because that one was at the top of the list. Um, so Chamomile is, you know, and I have to say this is a really good batch of Chamomile. It is like, it’s really, it’s summer in a jar. Like it just has such a strong aroma, I feel really excited about it. So Chamomile is really helpful at relaxation and that happens throughout the central nervous system. So it’s happening in your thoughts, but also in your body. And Chamomile also helps relax muscles as well. So if you, like me, might be a person who carries your mental tension in your physical body. By the way, it’s all the same thing. Like where else would you put your mental tension? It’s gotta be in here somewhere. And so I carry that around in my muscles a lot. I get very tense when I feel stressed out. When I’m just working too much and Chamomile helps relax that stuff. People think that Chamomile is powerless because it’s everywhere. You can get it anywhere. You can get it at the grocery store, you can get it at basically any restaurant. It’s everywhere. And also because it’s safe, it’s gentle enough you can give it to a baby, you can give it to an elder. But the it’s everywhere part of Chamomile actually is the thing that tells you that it is so potent and so important. Because when in this country, we gave up our herbalism in the mainstream and we pushed it all away, which made some of it illegal. We turned our backs on plants in the twenties and thirties in this country. Oh, now we have to say the 1920s and thirties now that it is the 2000 twenties. Well, anyway, when we did that, there was a very small number of herbs that we kept. We kept black tea, we kept Peppermint and we kept Chamomile. And then we kept some that we called spices. And we said, Oh, those are just food. Actually those are super powerful, wonderful things. But it’s very interesting to do a study and if you want to sorta just really nerd out in a glorious way sometime is to sort of look at the list of herbs that culturally we retained after we left herbalism as a culture. And to look at how powerful the plants that we retained really are and how much we actually depend on them, even though these days we just think of them as flavors. But anyway, Chamomile is really important to me because Chamomile is not a flavor. Peppermint is still a flavor. You could say, well I just liked the way it tastes. Well you can like the way that Chamomile tastes too. And frankly I love to put Chamomile in cookies. But it’s not something that we typically use to flavor food, right? Everything else that we kept is something that we flavor food with. And Chamomile is the only one, Chamomile and black tea, but black tea has caffeine. So we can see why we kept that one. Chamomile is the only one that has literally no purpose with big quote-y marks around it, that we kept it other than, other than what? Other than we can’t actually live without it. It’s actually so important that it was kept. So I think that that ubiquitousness is actually the endorsement of its potency and its importance.

Ryn:: 00:40:21 Yeah. Chamomile tastes good. You know, like people drink Chamomile tea after a meal. Helps you digest a little bit, helps you settle in because it enhances that rest and digest side of that balance we were talking about earlier. Yeah. And Catnip does too.

Katja: 00:40:39 Oh Catnip.


Ryn:: 00:40:39 And we just love to put Chamomile and Catnip together. They’re like really good friends, you know, they just get along super well.

Katja: 00:40:48 We’re kind of like Chamomile and Catnip people. It used to be that because Ryn:s a very Catnip kind of person with a lot of rising kind of like tendencies. Tendency towards heartburn or nausea whenever stuff is out of balance in the body. And that’s not my tendency. My tendency is for things to like move downward. I have like lower gut stuff when stuff is out of balance.

Ryn:: 00:41:13 To sink down and get stuck.

Katja: 00:41:15 Yeah, exactly. And so it’s always been like, Oh, well you’re a Catnip person and I’m a Chamomile person. But it turns out that one of the things that I have learned over the years about Catnip is that even though I think I’m an everything moves downward and gets stuck kind of person, emotionally sometimes fear or worry will come up from my gut and it doesn’t manifest as heartburn or as nausea. It manifests as anxiety. And that anxiety is being fueled from fears and worries that are coming up. And I have discovered that Catnip is just glorious in that, in that regard, which I think you already knew because you’ve been working with it in that way for so long. But the more that I would make teas for both of us and sometimes it would just be a Catnip tea and it would be like, wow, there’s like a really strong thing happening here and yeah. Catnip.

Ryn:: 00:42:20 Yeah. So Catnip is just a fantastic relaxant. It releases those tension patterns that are causing things to get uptight. I mean, that’s a very literal description of when Catnip is helpful. I think it has a pleasant scent and flavor. Not everybody loves the smell of it, but give it a try before you judge.

Katja: 00:42:43 The cats sure do.

Ryn:: 00:42:43 They do. Yeah. And you know, you look at a cat when they eat some catnip and they like rub all over it. And they would just want to get their face covered in it. And then they stretch and they roll around. And then they jump up and they look all around. And then they run over there. And then they run over here. And then they climb on the everything. But then in like 10 or 20 minutes, then they kind of come into a sunny spot and stretch out. Lay back with their belly up and purr for awhile. It’s that latter part that’s more of the sense that Catnip brings to humans.

Katja: 00:43:17 Yeah. And I noticed too that our cats, it’s almost like when they’re in that low level state of agitation, like maybe somebody has annoyed somebody else. We have four cats and a small house. So they can get on each of this nerve sometimes or whatever. That’s when everybody starts coming in here and asking for the Catnip. And it’s like, it pushes them to, instead of just being stuck in that low level agitation state, it winds them up to like, great, I am going to run around. I’m going to get this out of me. And now I’m just going to say, okay, great. Now I can just relax.

Ryn:: 00:44:03 Which tracks with Catnip’s activity as a relaxing diaphoretic. Right? And so a relaxing diaphoretic it would be like Catnip or Elderflower or other herbs like this that because of the way they release tension in the body, they can allow your pores to open and for heat to escape if you are feeling physically hot or even having a fever. But we also think about that happening on an emotional level, where if there’s hot agitated feelings going on, Catnip and the other relaxing diaphoretics can help to release those.

Katja: 00:44:38 Like get it all out.

Ryn:: 00:44:38 Let that emotional heat out of the body too. Yeah. All right.

Wood Betony

Katja: 00:44:44 Well the next one’s Wood Betony.

Ryn:: 00:44:47 Yeah Betony. So we’re talking about Stachys officinalis here. Wood Betony this one here, like very frequently when we include Betony in formulas, its major job is to try to bring the center of consciousness down into the body. Yes. So that it’s not exclusively in the head or maybe exclusively in the prefrontal cortex. Right?

Katja: 00:45:13 Yeah.

Ryn:: 00:45:14 So like if you’ve been stuck for a while in abstractions or in virtual worlds, but just as much worries about the past or the future.

Katja: 00:45:29 Like just not here, you know. Whether it’s you’re not here because there’s some dissociative issues going on and it doesn’t feel safe to be here in the present right now. So you’re kind of like escaping out to try to mitigate the discomfort and the even harm that you’re feeling. Or it doesn’t even have to be something that’s associated with trauma or whatever else. It just can be like you’ve been working in the computer for six hours and so like you’re all in there, you’re not even really, like everything about your body is really just your brain crunching numbers and solving problems. And so everything right now is abstract. And every physical part of you is kind of irrelevant. It’s the like, well my physical body is just what carries my brain around for me. You know, when you start to get into that kind of a feeling, Wood Betony really can help you gently come back down into your body energetically or like come back into the present. And even it can be really jarring when you’re like working in your computer and then somebody walks up behind you because they just have a question. And it’s super uncomfortable and you kind of want to punch them. And it creates a very uncomfortable agitation in the body because you were kind of like pulled out of your computer a little too quickly by the physical presence of somebody walking up to you. And so Betony is way more gentle than that. It’s just very gently helping you to filter back down out of that place of abstraction and into what’s real and tangible.

Ryn:: 00:47:22 Yeah. So it’s like a presencing effect.

Katja: 00:47:28 Yeah.


Ryn:: 00:47:28 You know, Damiana has a similar quality to it. Damiana is kind of famous as an aphrodisiac. And you know, that’s cool. But a lot of times the idea of what an aphrodisiac is is a little bit TV-ified. I don’t know.

Katja: 00:47:44 it’s not like your preferred person to be cuddly with will suddenly become a zombie and run around mindlessly behind you. That’s not what we mean by aphrodisiac.

Ryn:: 00:47:58 So, Damiana in particular, and really a lot of the herbs that have this reputation, much of it comes from helping you to be present in the moment. And a lot of that’s coming from relaxing some tension that’s happening in the body. Damiana exerts much of that relaxing quality through stimulating better blood movement and better blood flow, especially to places that haven’t been getting it. And part of this does connect to that idea of the low level stress response, right? When we have a full blown stress response, your body will actively restrict circulation to certain areas, right? It will reduce the amount of blood that’s in the digestive tract, but also the amount of blood that’s getting out to like your fingers and toes or up to the skin layer. It will basically redirect a lot of blood to your big leg muscles so that you can run away if you need to. And that means that these other areas aren’t getting as much flow. And flow is warmth, flow is oxygenation, it is nutrients. But it’s also going to allow for relaxation, right? When areas get kind of shunted off or closed off, it’s hard for them to relax. They’re in a tense stance right now. So Damiana increases blood flow out to the surface, up to the periphery…out to the periphery, up to the surface, whatever. And it exerts that relaxing quality to loosen up those tension patterns. And the net effect is that you feel more comfortable here, now. More present in your skin.


Katja: 00:49:37 We need to fill our jar of Damiana. This is a plant that we really depend on a lot. And I think there might be some in the box over there. We just got some shipment of new herbs. Yes. So the next plant that we’re including here is Motherwort. And Motherwort is well, so talented. But the aspect that we’re really looking at here, okay, well one of the aspects that we’re really looking at here, is around helping to create some boundaries. And often the way that I think about this is helping people to say no. You know, like how some people , and Hey…could be, you, could be me… can really never say no when people ask them for something. And so then it’s like, you know, your church group asks if you can coordinate the whatever and then your kid’s school says, can you also lead the whatever? And then somebody needs another thing and Oh, can you do that for us? And then, and even though you already know that you don’t actually have the capacity to do any of those things, you also can’t say no to them because either you were raised to not disappoint people, or you were raised to say that it’s rude to say no, or you were raised with a lot of guilt around letting people down, which by the way, saying no is not letting people down. It is just simply saying, I’m sorry I don’t have the resources for that. And it’s prized in our culture that we will just continue to take more and more on, even at our own expense. At our own monetary expense, but at our own health expense as well. And so it can be really hard to fight against all of that and say, no, right now, this is the space for me. And Motherwort really helps with that. Physiologically Motherwort also helps with relaxing the stresses that cause palpitations and relaxing the palpitations themselves. And so I see all of this really tied up together. Because why do we even get palpitations? Because we feel fear, right? Because we feel stressed because we feel anxiety. And why do we not say no when we know that we should say no for our own health? Because we feel fear. We feel fear of what will they think of me? Will I be letting them down? Am I a bad person? Am I disappointing them? We feel fear and anxiety around those things. And will I miss an opportunity or will I be passed over for advancement if I say no right now. And so all of that is like the same thing. That fear is the same as what is bringing that physiological state of palpitations into play. So, um, yeah, I really, really love that in Motherwort. It’s really very cool. Yeah. This is a really nice batch. Also, this came from Foster Farm Botanicals in Vermont. And if you look at it closely, it has all the little purple flower buds like pinky purple flower buds in there. And it’s just so pretty.

Blue Vervain

Ryn:: 00:53:32 Nice. And then finally we’ve got Blue Vervain. Verbena hostata. Blue Vervain is an extremely persuasive plant. And Blue Vervain persuades you that it is actually okay to calm down and to quiet down and to come into that state of rest and digest and settle. It helps with that switching over of the circuits. Right. And again, it’s not a binary, but it helps to kind of tilt the balance into that direction of rest and digest, relax and recover. And also to, I dunno, think more freely. To not be bound up in the same pattern.

Katja: 00:54:17 Yeah. Blue Vervain is very helpful when you just can’t let go of something. Whether it is something that you can’t delegate because you’re like, they won’t do it right. I have to do it. But then you’re also angry that you have to do it right. Or whether it’s something, even something that’s just really important to you and you can’t let it go for a minute. Or something that’s eating at you and you’re chewing it and you can’t just put it down and walk away and then come back and deal with it later. All those things, like any of those times when you might be described as white knuckling something. Just holding on so tight. Vervain is amazing in those situations. And this is actually Vervain that we harvested ourselves this year and I’m so delighted at all the little deep blue purple flowers that Blue Vervain grows in these spikes, these raceme. It’s like a spike of flowers, but they don’t all flower at the same time. And so the whole spike is here and each one of those is going to become a seed. And so every one of these spikes…because I didn’t chop them up, I left them as their whole spikes. I wanted to be able to see them…has at some point on the spike these brilliant, deep purple blue flowers just sort of frozen in time there. Yeah.

Ryn:: 00:55:59 Yeah. Well, it’s worth saying that the Vervain and the Motherwort are pretty substantially bitter herbs. Now that’s actually part of the reason that we included them. Or you could say it’s, it’s connected to some of their activity. Bitter herbs in general are going to have some pretty pronounced effects on nerve activity in the body, most especially with what’s called the Vegas nerve, which kind of wanders around amongst your internal organs and is like a major highway for communication between what’s going on in your guts and what’s registering up inside your brain and in your sensorium. So many bitter herbs are going to act on that nerve generally to calm down over excitation and to help things to settle into work more coherently in the body. Vervain and Motherwort in particular really help to calm down that central nerve and then that effect is going to spread out to others in the system. So their bitterness is essential to the way that they go about it. And when we mixed this blend up, we’ve got six herbs here, we’ll probably put them in more or less equal parts.

Katja: 00:57:16 Except maybe not the Vervain.

Ryn:: 00:57:18 Except maybe not the Vervain, you know,

Katja: 00:57:21 I’m fine with an equal part of the Motherwort. The bitterness of Motherwort is kind of a friendly bitterness. It’s fine. It’s not too sharp. So I don’t mind that. But the Vervain bitterness can be a little on the sharp side. So maybe like a half a part for Vervain.

Ryn:: 00:57:37 Right. Another option I was thinking of was, you’ve got six herbs in this formula. You could kind of count down. You could do six parts Chamomile, five parts Catnip, four parts Betony, three parts Damiana, two parts Motherwort and one part Vervain.

Katja: 00:57:53 Oh that’s nice.

Ryn:: 00:57:53 Mix them together, stir them all up like that. That should be, I haven’t literally tested this formula in this way. I’ve done other formulas like this before.

Katja: 00:58:02 But that would be a lovely flavor, I think.

Ryn:: 00:58:06 I think that should come out pretty nicely. Yeah. But the point here is you should experiment, right? Try it a little while. See how it tastes to you. Play with the proportions. Don’t make an enormous batch all at the first go. Right.

Katja: 00:58:23 And maybe substitute in some different plants, or were you just about to say that?

Ryn:: 00:58:28 Yeah. There might be other herbs that you are thinking of like, Oh, why didn’t they mention lavender? Why didn’t they mention Linden? Yeah. So there may be herbs that you have connections to that you think would help you get into a nice new moon state of mind and absolutely put those in there. Like every formula that we teach, there’s no arcane mystery of why it has to be exactly these plants in exactly these ratios. It’s a starting point.

Katja: 00:58:55 Well, it never has to be exactly these plants and exactly these ratios because sometimes you don’t have this plant or that plant there. There are so many plants and they’re all amazing. And if you don’t have one, then look around and say, well, this is what I’m trying to do. Who can help me with that?

Ryn:: 00:59:15 Yeah. So we encourage you to experiment and we’d also love to hear how that goes for you, right? If you have already a new new moon kind of blend that you find helpful to get into that sort of a space, we’d love to hear about it. And if you’re listening to this in four years from now and you come up with one and you just want to share with us, we’d still love to hear from you. So please do feel free to reach out. We’re easy to find. You know, if you’re listening to our podcast and you’ve already found that, but you can check out our website, Commonwealthherbs.com. You can send us an email to info@commonwealthherbs.com and we’re on Facebook. We’re on Twitter, we’re on YouTube. We’re on Instagram. Yeah, all of them. Commonwealth Herbs. That’s us. Yes.

Katja: 01:00:04 Well, hey, we have some shout outs that I want to share. Yes. Speaking of…

Ryn:: 01:00:07 Speaking of socials.

Katja: 01:00:08 A bunch of folks on Instagram were sharing their thoughts about last week’s podcast episode about sustainability and even like regeneration ability. So, Blue Jay botanicals and Eileen were saying that they were thinking about things really differently now and that is super exciting. Julie from Australia has a seven generation plan to revitalize her land and build better soil quality and wrote to us to say that the episode was really meaningful for her. And we feel very excited about that. Multifaceted mama said that she has been trying to find ways to talk about this idea and was really excited for some of the ideas in the podcast to share.

Ryn:: 01:01:01 Yeah. And then Jill from Oregon wrote in. She’s got a sustainable farm out there that’s pretty great and said that she particularly enjoyed the introverts and extroverts episode from a while back. Which is still, that was a good one.

Katja: 01:01:16 That was a really good one. Yeah. That’s still one of my favorite. I had to do like a top 10 episodes that would certainly make it into the list.

Ryn:: 01:01:25 Well, hey, if you enjoy the pod, then why not share it with your friends? You can send them a link directly, right to the pod. And you can get some herby goodness straight into their ears.

Katja: 01:01:35 That’s true. And also, if you are so inclined, you could become a supporter of this podcast, which not only will you be helping to offset the costs of the podcast itself because podcasting is not free. So you can be offsetting those costs, but also you’ll be supporting our community programs like scholarships for incarcerated students and for single moms of color. And we’re really excited to be talking with some folks about expanding our availability to people who are detained in immigration detention centers. Also, some people who are seeking safety in our country are detained for literally years, and that is not a very awesome thing. So if those people want some herby goodness, we want to make it available to them too. You’re supporting our free clinics. You’re supporting free clinics here in Boston, but also free clinics when we go on the road. So that is just awesome and we really appreciate that.

Ryn:: 01:02:41 We do. But when you’re a supporter, you get more than just the satisfaction of knowing you’re making this all possible. You also get fun herbal videos right into your herbal inbox every week.

Katja: 01:02:54 Well, it can be any kind of any kind of inbox which we hope is filled with lots of herby goodness.

Ryn:: 01:03:00 Yeah. We share with our supporters some material that we don’t post anywhere else. And a lot of it is stuff that you can do right away.

Katja: 01:03:08 Yeah. Just a short video, like a five or 10 minute video every week, that we hope will brighten your day and give you something right away that you can say, Oh, I could do this today. And we hope and we think that it’s a really good way to just make herbs more a part of your daily life. And so that is what we send to all of our monthly supporters. And if you would like to get that, you can check it out at commonwealthherbs.com/supporters.

Ryn:: 01:03:43 There it is. All right, folks. That’s it for this week’s episode of the Holistic Herbalism podcast. We’ll be back next week with some more herby goodness for you. Until then, take care of yourselves. Take care of each other.

Katja: 01:03:55 Drink some tea.

Ryn:: 01:03:56 Drink some tea. And enjoy an occasional quiet day.

Katja: 01:04:02 yes. Happy new moon.

Ryn:: 01:04:03 Bye

Katja: 01:04:03 Bye.


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