Podcast 140: Herbs As Mantra – Mental Reset & Redirection

This week we listened to a talk by a Buddhist teacher about mantra chanting practices, and one particular facet of their purpose: to be a mental reset or redirection, a way to get a hold of your mind when it’s spun up & agitated. It inspired us to think about herbs as mantra, as mind tools – which herbs are, just as much as they’re physical supports. Herbs can help us introduce new mental patterns and change the way we relate to our minds.

People have been working with mantra and other meditative practices for a long time. That means people have been seeking ways to calm and direct mental patterns for a long time – it’s not new! If you feel this way sometimes, you can rest assured that it’s not just you; it’s everyone. You might say that it’s a natural consequence of having a brain that can do all the complex & amazing things our brains can do. Sometimes that complex computer gets stuck or spinning, and you need a reboot.

That’s where meditation comes in, traditionally – and that’s also where herbs as mantra come in! These plants can slow down the spinning so you can step off the mental merry-go-round. They can release tension that stops you from being able to identify what you need, or express it. They can bring in some sunshine and get your inner waters moving smoothly. Whatever pattern you find yourself falling into in those moments, there are herbs that can help!

Herbs discussed in this episode include: hawthorn, linden, sage, mugwort, juniper, cedar, pine, st john’s wort, yarrow, calendula, heather, kava, pedicularis, solomon’s seal, crampbark, orange peel.

Our Neurological & Emotional Health course is a user’s guide to your nerves & emotions. We explain how these systems work, what they need to work well, and what gets in the way of their smooth efficient function. We discuss holistic herbalism strategies for addressing both neurological & psychological health issues, and it includes a lengthy discussion of herbal pain management strategies, too! This self-paced online video course includes access to twice-weekly live Q&A sessions so you can connect with Katja & Ryn directly.

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Episode Transcript

Katja (00:14):
Hi, I’m Katja.

Ryn (00:16):
And I’m Ryn.

Katja (00:16):
And we’re here at the Commonwealth Center for Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.

Ryn (00:19):
And on the internet everywhere, thanks to the power of the podcast.

Katja (00:24):
Well, this week I’m actually super excited to talk about some mental and emotional health issues, and in particular a tool to kind of grab ahold of ourselves when our brains are like getting stuck in very familiar patterns that may be different from person to person, but they are the familiar patterns that sort of get us spiraling towards feelings of depression or feelings of anxiousness, or feelings of self loathing, or low self-worth, or like all those kinds of things. And I’m super excited to talk about this. But before we jump into that, we just have to say, and also we want to say, we are not doctors. We are herbalists and holistic health educators.

Ryn (01:12):
Yeah, that’s right. The ideas we discuss in this podcast do not constitute medical advice. No state or federal authority licenses herbalists in the U.S. And these discussions are for educational purposes only, as if that wasn’t a great purpose.

Katja (01:27):
Yes. That’s an excellent purpose.

Ryn (01:27):
Every time they get to that sentence in the thing, I’m like, ah, you know, but so it is, right? Well, remember everyone’s body is different. So the things that we’re talking about, they may or may not apply directly to you, but they will give you some good information to think about and some ideas to research further.

Katja (01:41):
And we want to remind you that your good health is your right and your own personal responsibility. So that means that the final decision when you’re considering any course of therapy, whether it’s discussed on the internet or prescribed by a physician, is always yours.

Ryn (01:58):
That’s right. All right. So let’s talk about this spinning mind, stuck mind, repetitive pattern situation. This is basically us taking some lessons from the worlds of meditation and mental awareness and thinking about how that applies to the worlds of herbalism and tea awareness.

Katja (02:16):
Tea awareness. Yes, yes. So what happened to get us thinking this way? Well, I mean, a little bit we’re already thinking this way, because we’re in the middle of producing some new content for the neurological and emotional health course. But specifically this particular approach to this topic came up because we were listening to a talk by a Buddhist teacher about chanting mantras, and the function of mantras in the perspective of Buddhist practice. So, the teacher was presenting that they are intended like a mental reset.

Ryn (02:53):
Yeah. Even talking about the word itself, apparently it breaks down to something like mind tool. Mantra. Mind tool, right? And that’s both a tool that is within your mind, and also one that you are applying to your mind. Right.

Mantra: When You Need a Mental Reboot

Katja (03:11):
So, in applying it to your mind, that these mantras are a way to get ahold of your brain when it’s spinning out of control with anxiousness or worry or negative self-talk or ungroundedness or compulsive and destructive behavior, whatever sort of falls into that definition for you, and to redirect it. And I want to be clear that that we’re only talking about one facet. Like if you are a person who’s a Buddhist practitioner, then I know that there is more to it than that, but this was one facet that she was presenting. And I found it really fascinating, because she was talking about interrupting these thought patterns, interrupting something in your head that is not serving you and to help you to reset it. And the first thing that popped into my mind as she was talking about this was that these mantras and their ideas and the teaching around them have existed for more than 2,500 years. So, in other words, this is not a new problem, right? If you’re like, why does my brain spin out of control towards anxiousness or whatever? Like people have been searching for a solution to this problem for at least 2,500 years, because that’s when we started writing about this. And so maybe this is just part of being human. And I kind of think it’s like a natural consequence of a brain that can do all of the cool stuff that our brains can do is that sometimes it gets to spinning and we have to reboot it.

Ryn (04:54):
Yeah. The, I don’t know, the internal processes are colliding with each other and just need to like take a moment and reset, start over.

Katja (05:02):
It’s almost like, you know, we accept that completely from a computer. We may be annoyed, but we’re like, eh, reboot, you know, like, Oh, sometimes it just gets really …

Ryn (05:11):
Turn it off and turn it on again off.

Katja (05:12):
And it’ll be fine. Right. But when our brains are in that state and what we need is a reboot, we don’t necessarily approach it with that sort of like, Oh, I just need to reboot. Like, we can tend to approach it with the energy that we’re spun up with. Like, so, Oh no. And now all this terrible stuff is about to happen because my brain is spiraling towards whatever. And it’s like, or we could take a step back and reboot. Not that that is the easiest thing in the world to do.

Ryn (05:46):
Nope. No, indeed. Yeah. Just because it’s necessary doesn’t ever make it easy in human health world.

Katja (05:55):
But just thinking about it in those terms was a nice little like blow my mind moment.

Ryn (06:03):
Yeah. And like you said, it had some synchronicity to it. You know, you mentioned we’ve been making some new material for the course we’re building right now on neurological and emotional health. And we’re thinking a lot there about aspects of emotional health and of mental health that have to do with all these different ways of the brain spinning itself out of control, and how difficult it can be to reign that in. But then also about how there can be stigma associated with the way that that presents. So, this is what you’re feeling inside, and then what kind of comes out of you. You know, there can be a lot of stigma, a lot of shame, a lot of guilt around that as well. Whether it’s originating externally and people are scolding you for, get yourself together or something like that.

Katja (06:49):
Why can’t you just be happy.

Ryn (06:50):
Yeah. Or you internally just saying like, ah, why is this happening? My brain’s not supposed to be like this. My mind shouldn’t be like that. Everyone else doesn’t seem to have this problem. They’ve all got it together, right? Very easy to believe that about other people. But the secret is that nobody has it as together as you think. And even if they do, it’s probably just for a few minutes at a time, you know?

Katja (07:16):
Right? Well, if people have been seeking tools to break out of those patterns for more than 2,500 years, then that means this has to be universal to most people. Maybe not 100% of all people, but like, I’m going to go out on a limb and be like 99.9% of people. And it also means that maybe there’s nothing wrong with us when we can’t just be happy or when we are getting down or getting anxious.

Ryn (07:44):
Wrong in the sense of like, you are fundamentally broken or different or other than like the experiences that the people around you are having, right? When we feel bad, something’s wrong. Okay. Yeah. You feel there’s something wrong on that level, right? Like yeah, okay. Being depressed is a state where you’re like, yep, something’s wrong here. I would like this to change. But the fact that you occasionally become depressed doesn’t mean that you fundamentally are wrong or broken or, you know, need to be fundamentally altered in some manner.

Katja (08:13):
Right. You are still good. Yeah. So anyway, just because those states are not comfortable and they don’t serve us, it doesn’t make us bad. Doesn’t make us wrong. Just is an indication that we need to find ways that work for each of us individually to get us to a more comfortable place, and hopefully to do that without extra bonus shame and guilt piled on top of the whole process.

Alternatives to Mantras

Ryn (08:42):
Extra bonus guilt. That’s just what we all like. Yeah. Let’s see if we can win that sweepstakes. So, look, we keep talking about this with the connection to the mantra or the Buddhist practices and teachings and all that, but you don’t have to be a Buddhist. You don’t have to recite mantras for this to work. If you have a meditation practice of whatever kind, or if you think about other things that are similar, like saying the rosary or prayers that you like. Reciting a meaningful poem that touches you or that you feel, you know, elicit some deep truth about the universe and human experience in it. Or if you’re doing something physical, like a sun salutation or a yoga series or a martial arts form or something like that. You know, those are all ways to access that same mental space or those are similar kinds of mental tools, right?

Katja (09:35):
Right. To shift the mental space to like, to give your self that reboot.

Ryn (09:41):
Yeah. And especially things like that. You know, I have some experience with martial arts and some of those involved learning forms and sequences and things. And I think about that as being really similar to this idea of the mantra, where there is a physical component to it, right? With a mantra, a big part of why that can be especially helpful for some people to get them into a meditative space is because it gives you something to do with your body. And there’s a sound. And there are like all these sensory inputs that go along with it. It’s very similar when you have a sequence of movements that you want to work through, right? And you’re like, okay, I know the shapes that I’m making. I can give a lot of attention to it. I can refine my positions each time. And that helps you to stay present and helps you to stay in the moment. And it gets your mind away from whatever it was stuck spinning on before you realized and then decided to intervene.

Katja (10:29):
Right. Yeah.

Ryn (10:29):
So that’s very similar to preparing a cup of tea and smelling it and tasting it and drinking it and feeling the warmth, move down your chest, right? There’s physical sensations that go along with that. And when it’s got…when we’re thinking about the herbs that we work with, their particular scent and flavor and profile is a big part of how they can work for you, not just in one moment, but particularly as a practice. Just like meditation, the more you practice it, the more it helps. So with these herbs, the more that you work with them and call on them and get familiar with their scent and their flavor and all the physical and sensory experiences you get from them, the more that will help to be a set of cues that will shift you over into the space that you’re trying to get into.

Katja (11:17):
Right. Like, you know, if every time you drink tulsi tea, you start to feel better. And you’re like, all right. All right. All right. I can face this day. Then you’re not just getting the benefit from the tulsi. You’re also reinforcing that, so that it starts happening faster. You just taste it and you’re like, all right, I know what’s coming. This is going to help me feel better. Here we go. Here it comes. And there’s like maybe a little bit of a Pavlovian aspect to that. And I think that’s fantastic.

Ryn (11:48):
There is, there is, you know. Behaviorism has lots of problems, but like there are some useful elements there that we can turn to our advantage, right? Yeah.

Katja (11:58):
Well, speaking of a cup of tea and working with tea to break out of these mental spirals, maybe we can share some herbs around this. And I was trying to think about ways to share herbs that can be helpful in this process. And by the way, these will all be helpful whether making a cup of tea and drinking it itself is the ritual that you are using as your reset, or whether it is adjunct to sitting and meditating or doing some yoga or whatever else. It can all be sort of like part of the system altogether. But I was trying to think of like, how can we share some herbs that would be very helpful for this? And I was kind of trying to abstract it. Like, if you have these sorts of things, then maybe these. And I was like, or we could just talk about ourselves and like, get really real about how we get ourselves spun up and the herbs that we turn to when that happens for us. And in that way, if you see yourself in any of these, then you’ll be able to grab onto those as well. So maybe we can just give that a shot.

Ryn (13:17):
Yeah, sure.

Supporting Anger/Grief

Katja (13:19):
You know, I’ll start with one that I tend to get spun up in pretty repetitive ways. So two things that come up really commonly for me are anger, and specifically anger that I feel like I can’t really take any good action on. So, like anger at a larger social injustice or anger at something that happened in the past that I can’t change now. And also that I’m disappointed that I didn’t do it differently when it happened. And so then I just get really agitated. I get very filled with negative self-talk and that tends to spiral into these so unhelpful patterns of like reliving arguments, or inventing arguments that should have happened a long time ago and never happened. And like, thinking about them over and over again until I say some magical right thing that would have changed stuff. Like, no, of course not. Maybe, but it’s too late now, anyway. And so this stuff never helps. It just gets me really mired in the past. And it in no way pushes me towards something more healthy for right now or for the future. So I don’t want to say that anger can’t be helpful. It can. Anger can be a fantastic tool. But when my anger gets spun in this direction, this is not useful anger. This is anger that’s just hurting me or anger that I am using to hurt myself with. So that’s not very cool. And so, you know, some herbs that we’ve talked about a bunch in this kind of a situation is elderflower in terms of releasing those overheated feelings. Schisandra in terms of that anger that’s held in the liver and like processing that. Tulsi, of course, in terms of like processing emotions that are stuck, and helping to lift you up out of them. Betony to get you out of that head space and into your body, which is a more present experience. And even Rose to give yourself a little bit of cover from the things that are upsetting you so much. And I feel like we talk about those a lot. So I wanted to talk a little bit more about some that maybe we don’t talk about as often. And two that came right to mind are linden and hawthorn, which when I say that you might be like, but Katja, that’s grief. And, you know, or but Katja, that’s heart support. And yes it is, because this kind of anger, and especially this kind of anger that leads to a lot of negative repetitive thinking, very frequently has a grief component to it, a grief component of why didn’t I do it differently? Why did I allow that to happen? Like all those things. And so just trying to dissipate the anger with one of those herbs or other herbs that are allies for you is leaving part of the problem unaddressed, right? Like that grief component also needs to be addressed. And so I really want to propose linden and hawthorn, and also even heather can fall into this category. And rose can cross over into this category too as herbs that are specific to the grief aspect of this kind of, sort of like unhelpful rumination.

Ryn (17:15):
Hmm. Yeah. Grief in that context, it’s almost as if you’re grieving for a lost opportunity to have done something differently.

Katja (17:28):
Or like grieving for the way that things could have happened if only, you know, but then of course they didn’t.

Breaking Tension

Ryn (17:35):
Yeah. Right. So, yeah. So those very gentle, you know, soft herbs like linden, protective herbs, like the hawthorn and rose, that makes a lot of sense there. When I get into that kind of negative self-talk thing, then I express tension patterns more than anything else. And that, for me, sometimes that gets to a place where it’s hard to speak. Like, it’s hard to move my jaw. It’s hard to get my mind to form the kind of words that I want, because I’m all bound up in, like, you did this wrong, you did that wrong, you did this wrong. You’re all stuck. Now you’re making it worse because you can’t speak outloud.

Katja (18:15):
Right. And then so helpfully, that’s usually when I come along and say, what are you thinking about? What’s wrong, babe?

Ryn (18:24):
Yeah. That’s my repetitive place of being stuck. And for there, you know, I do need, do you need a release, right? So I feel like there’s a group of the same old relaxants that we talk about over and over again. Skullcap and passionflower and betony for the capacity they do have to take a mind that’s stuck on a merry-go-round of like the same circle of thoughts over and over again, to slow that down. At least enough so you can jump off and roll maybe, you know, or if you can’t stop it all the way, at least we can do that. So that trio is really reliable: skullcap, betony, passionflower. I also call a lot on catnip, when I remember, in those moments. And oftentimes that’s the difficulty is just like this is happening again. Now what? But if I have the herbs kind of like laid out on my table. Or like, we’ve got a line of nervine blends back here on our table right here, just to keep them front of field recently. So that we can grab those easily, or just be like, hey darling, why don’t you look over there and select something delicious. Which is extremely helpful actually, and way better than like, oh, why don’t you just relax. Just take it easy, you know? So, if you also have like other people around that sometimes get stuck in these difficult emotional spaces, maybe that could be an easier way to offer them some support than whatever you’ve been trying up until now.

Katja (19:48):
You know, and also in particular that that works well, because we both get out the herbs together and put them on the table. So, like we’re collaborating on this when we’re feeling okay, so that when we’re not feeling okay, we can direct each other to a thing that we have set up to help ourselves. I think that works a lot better than if I were to get out a bunch of herbs and be like, babe, I think you need to go take some herbs now. You know, like that’s a little less…

Ryn (20:19):
I think I personally would respond okay to that. And there was, it was a couple of years ago now. But I was like, hey, you know what? Next time I’m being a grumpy jerk, just come and hand me something and I’ll respond better to that than like trying to open a conversation.

Katja (20:35):
That’s true. That’s true. But I think for some people it would be…for some people it would be received accusatorily. For some people it would be spoken accusatorily. Like the person who’s trying to be helpful might actually be irritated, and that would come through. So, if you’re on either side of that, then setting up your herb selection collaboratively ahead of time, so that what you’re doing is pointing each other into, hey, we’ve set up a solution for ourselves for this, and not, I’m trying to fix you, dear. Yeah. I mean, even that, when you said, you said outright, you know what? Rather than having to talk, just hand me a thing and I’ll take it. Like, that’s still, that was you setting it up ahead of time, so I was executing your wishes in that moment. Like I was actually respecting what you had said would be most helpful for you. And I think that’s what I’m kind of getting at here is not what I think would be most helpful for you, which is definitely just talk it out, babe. But what you think would be most helpful for you. And then me collaborating with you in that. Yeah.

Ryn (21:51):
Yeah. So, but yeah, I mean, tension is the primary, like physical, mental expression that I’m getting in those moments. Kava, it gets really important then. Pedicularis has been extremely helpful to me for similar reasons. You know, both of those herbs are really, they’re physical herbs, or they act on like muscle tissue, smooth muscle. Of course, some of this effect is mediated through nerves themselves, nerve tissue. But the experience of taking those plants isn’t so much like I’m mentally sedated or even that the calmness that arises is all in the mind, you know. When this gets real bad for me I’ll get shaky. You know, shakiness is an expression of intense tension or long held tension. And yeah, kava and Pedicularis are really, really soothing in those moments. Easy to take as tincture, you know, just real quick. You can take a squirt and you’re good. Over there I have this little electuary, like a honey powder paste made up with kava that’s right on my desk, staring me in the face, trying to remind me when I feel that way that this would help out a lot. So, those kinds of classic, you know, physical, mental, emotional, relaxing herbs can be really great. But then, you know, we also think not just about plants that are classed as nervines, you know. I think about solomon’s seal very frequently for this kind of support. But you could even think about a very like physical plant like cramp bark. Again, that’s operating on smooth muscle primarily, but it does relieve tension. And what happens in your body is going to have echoes in your mind and in your emotions always.

Katja (23:33):
Right. There’s a direct feedback loop. Part of it is hormonal. Part of it is through the nerves. Part of it is probably in ways that we don’t yet understand. But there’s a direct feedback loop between how you’re breathing and what you are experiencing mentally. And like, you could be reasonably calm mentally, but breathing in a very agitated kind of way. And that tells your brain something must be wrong. You know, you could be reasonably calm mentally, but then building tension in your body and your brain is starting to get the message like something’s not right here. So.

Ryn (24:10):
Yeah. And we think about that too, like, in terms of posture and alignment and the way we find ourselves sitting. Like if you get into a position where you’re really hunched over and curled in. And your soft underbelly space is getting more and more compressed and covered and shelled in from the outside world, your body’s going to get the message to the mind that says there’s some kind of threat going on around here, right? When we have a shocked or fear response, we do that same posture, that same inward curling, protect your soft parts kind of shape to the body. So we want to think about that too. I guess when you’re talking about breathing and that sort of made me think of, we also keep around some bottles of essential oils, just like thyme or lavender or something.

Katja (24:55):
And pine. Today it’s pine and sage.

Ryn (24:56):
Pine. Yeah. And just to, not to like put drops on ourselves or even in a diffuser, but just to like open it up, take a little sniff and then go back to what you’re doing. And each essential oil, of course, has different range of effects on us. And some are soothing and calming and some, like pine, are really activating and fortifying and everything. But whenever we think to take one of those, there’s also a deep breath that comes along with that, right? It’s like, okay, a couple of long, slow, deep breaths. I’m sure that would help even without the herbs in it. But when you add the herb, right, you’re adding those sensory cues. You’re giving your body that other layer of information to work with.

Katja (25:37):
It’s so funny, because I think that’s the most frequent way that we work with essential oils.

Ryn (25:40):
Just a sniff.

Katja (25:42):
We don’t actually even take them out of the bottle. We just take the lid off and smell it and put it back on.

Ryn (25:49):
They sure last a long time.

Katja (25:49):
It’s a very cost-effective way to work with essential oil. Yeah.

Ryn (25:54):
You were talking about sage.

Keep Trudging

Katja (25:55):
Yes. Okay. So another pattern that happens for me a lot, in terms of like mental patterns that are not helpful, there will be a component of feeling overwhelmed with what I have to do or what I would like to do or what I imagine I can do. And maybe simultaneously under supported, whether or not that’s actually true. I may actually have plenty of support and be unable to call on it, or even better unwilling to call on it. And so either like I’m angry that I haven’t gotten something done because in the morning I was like, this day is full of potential. And then I piled like 10 days worth of stuff into the day that I thought I was going to be able to get done. And then that feeds into a bunch of negative self-talk about like, why did I not do better at this thing that wasn’t even possible, you know? And then I get spiraled down into this very stuck space of like, well, I guess I’m just terrible. Or I’m maybe trying to get out from under feelings of disappointment and feeling bad about myself because I didn’t accomplish things that I thought I would get done, whether or not they were reasonable, by blaming someone else, someone real or imagined, someone who may have absolutely nothing to do with the situation for like somehow not supporting me in a real or imagined way, right? So, there’s lots of or imagined going on in this type of a thought pattern. And I think that that’s something for us to explore. Because what I have learned in my life, and this is something that I I’ve been doing a lot of work on specifically over the past decade, but I think that this has been a very true pattern in my whole life, is that I was taught in certain ways that led me to believe that it’s not okay to ask for help. It’s not okay to accept help. And so I start to imagine a lot of things about support that is or is not available to me and is or is not accessible to me. And most of it is not true. And yet in my mind, I’m making it really solid and it’s just not. And when I’m able to let go of that and just be like, hey babe, can you help me with this? Everything’s fine.

Ryn (28:37):
Asking for help isn’t easy.

Katja (28:40):
It’s not easy.

Ryn (28:40):
It’s a skill you need to practice. You need to start early, you know? I don’t remember that coming up in kindergarten, so.

Katja (28:49):
Yeah, no, right? So, sage is a plant here that is such a true friend in this situation. And sage has a long history of, of being worked with, for mental health issues. And by long history, I mean like Hippocrates and Dioscorides were writing about it. And then there was sort of this gap where we didn’t talk about sage that way for a long time, like maybe a couple of hundred years. And it was just respiratory and digestive support and whatever. And then, you know, I came across this myself in my own body because I was working with sage to deal with some heavy menstrual cycles. And this particular pattern comes up a lot when I’m menstruating. And over several months I realized that not only did sage assist with the menstruation itself, but also assisted with the mental pattern. And I was like, whoa, what’s that about? And then I started working with it intentionally that way, not related to menstruation, just related to that mental pattern and found like, ooh, this really, really works. And that’s when I went digging to try to find stuff. And I was like, oh, this is how we used to work with sage. And they used to call that psychosis, right? The definition of psychosis for Dioscorides and today were a little bit different. But on the other hand…

Ryn (30:21):
it’s like -osis, mind problem.

Katja (30:24):
Right, exactly. Yeah. But on the other hand, when I get like that, it does maybe feel a little psychotic. Maybe not the diagnostic term of psychotic, but certainly the pop culture term psychotic. I do feel a little psycho when that’s happening. And so, I just, I can’t say enough about sage there. And sage has some friends that help me with that a lot, mugwort in particular.

Ryn (30:55):
Goldenrod is one that you sometimes work with similarly.

Katja (30:58):
Yes, that’s true.

Ryn (30:58):
I think goldenrod has a little less of the I’m unsupported and more of the just gotta keep on trudging forever.

Katja (31:06):
Right. More of the marathon aspect. And also goldenrod is a little more real. Sage is like, I’m maybe not actually as overwhelmed as I think, or like, I feel overwhelmed because I have done this to myself. Whereas goldenrod, I tend to think about when I truly do have a real deadline. I mean, I can get into this mental pattern when I have a real deadline. But goldenrod, I feel like even when I’m not doing this to my brain and I’m just like, I have a deadline, I want to hit it. I’m doing the work. You’re helping with the work. Like everything is functioning properly, but also I’m tired because this is a marathon. That’s when I’m really thinking about goldenrod, kind of without the… the exhaustion, but not the psychosis kind of side to it. Yeah. But mugwort when I’m doing the crazy.

Motivating With Bitter

Ryn (32:03):
Yeah. Mugwort is really, is really wonderful there. I think that for me, I really like the bitter element of mugwort and the aromatic element of mugwort coming together in that one plant. I don’t always love to simple. I very rarely will take a single herb all by itself. And certainly over the course of a day our days have many herbs in them. But mugwort is an herb that has a lot of complexity to its flavor. And I was thinking about this as another way to look at our kind of topic here and this connection to that idea about mantra, where there are some plants that just have a lot going on. And tasting them and really just being present with that flavor and smell and everything, with some plants there’s enough to explore there that it can keep your mind busy for awhile. So I feel that way about mugwort.

Katja (32:57):
It gets you really present with your tongue. Like ooh, stuff is going on.

Ryn (33:02):
Yeah. And the bitter element definitely does that. You know, there’s some other bitter plants like blue vervain or motherwort where I think a lot of their effect comes from the bitterness. They’re just like be here now. You can’t go somewhere else in your mind or in your projections. But yeah, I mean mugwort really has that power. And I find that helpful for when I am feeling overwhelmed. Like give me something to just focus on that is not at all connected to my spreadsheets or to my inbox or to my to-do list or my calendar or whatever else. So that’s really great there.

Katja (33:37):
I want to add another thing, like another facet of this, which is that usually when we talk about mugwort, we are…not usually, but very often when we’re talking about mugwort, we’re talking about dreaming and even working with mugwort to overcome nightmares. Because mugwort can give you a lot more agency in your dreams, like the ability to make lucid choices. And that can be very helpful when you’re trying to break out of a pattern of repetitive nightmares.

Ryn (34:11):
There’s a connection here, right?

Katja (34:12):
You see? Yeah. That’s what I’m thinking. Like you don’t have to be asleep to be a nightmare.

Ryn (34:19):
Yeah. And look, sometimes the only way to get out of your stuck space is to fall asleep for awhile. And like to take some mugwort to fall asleep, to let your dream do the work of churning through that emotional difficulty, and then to come out the other side. That’s a very successful strategy sometimes. And I definitely have employed a pleasant nap with a squirt of mugwort in that way pretty often.

Katja (34:43):
Even if you don’t have time for a nap, though, I sort of feel like getting that agency. Like when you’re in this state of spiraling, whatever, you know, flavor of spiral it is, you’ve kind of lost your agency. You’ve kind of, at this point, you’ve lost a little bit of control over the process. And that’s what we’re talking about is like, how do we reboot? How do we grab control of that and stop the spinning? And so, that’s another place where I think that mugwort is really entering into the cycle here.

Ryn (35:18):
Yeah, for real. I also think about juniper and cedar. It’s kind of more similar to the sage kind of goldenrod range of things. They have, I don’t know, there’s a slight bitterness in them. But with juniper and cedar, and thinking about leaf primarily there, although with juniper, the berries, they’re very similar. They’re very strong.

Katja (35:39):
That kind of helps.

Ryn (35:39):
And they’re very stimulating and motivating. Again, it’s that intense flavor experience, right?

Katja (35:43):
Almost like a, you know, we’re going along we’re going along and then suddenly there’s a clap. And it gets your attention. I will spare your ears and not actually do it in the microphone, but you know what I’m talking about? Like a sudden jolt that shakes you out of something. And like the strong flavors of juniper and cedar kind of feel that way.

Ryn (36:05):
Yeah. I mean, with juniper you can just have the berries and grab a dried berry and hold it in your mouth and then just like crunch right through it. And pow, they’re like juniper everywhere, you know? It’s very big. But even aside, those herbs, and evergreens more generally, you know, pine as well, I do find to be helpful in that way of like getting you over a hump, right. If you’re like, ugh, there’s this uphill thing I have to get through. And I don’t really want to, but I have to keep going. And I’m just going to lay down and flop and stay stuck in this little mental valley, right? But if you could get enough motivation to get over that hill, then you’d be on the other side and it’d be smooth moving, right? So, yeah, something with a little bit of that evergreen aromaticity to it I find helpful there. I think climbing a pine tree is probably the best way to access that personally, but not everybody has climbable pines in easy reach.

Katja (37:03):
Yeah. And also occasionally the Valley is so down in there that like just getting up and going outside to the tree is hard.

Ryn (37:14):

Processing Sadness

Katja (37:20):
Another pattern we can talk about here is the sort of sad and down kind of pattern. When that happens to me as a cold stagnant person anyway, or as a person with constitutional tendencies in that direction, I get really, really stuck. And so when I’m talking about this, I frequently talk about things like ginger and damiana, which both have a lot of movement to them. Or chamomile, which while it isn’t like a super moving plant, it is a plant of compassion. It’s providing yourself with compassion. Linden and hawthorn for the sadness aspect, or tulsi for the motivation and the getting back up. And these are ones we talk about a lot, but I also wanted to add to that list a couple other plants. So, first St. John’s wort, which is stimulating a great deal of movement in the body through the liver. And a lot of times for me when I’m feeling sad and down, it’s not just emotional, but there may also be some physical.

Ryn (38:39):
Yeah. And there’s a connection too, because like we think about St John’s wort and we think about it being a vulnerary or like a wound healer. And we think about it having this range of stimulating effects through the digestive system. There’s some bitterness and that gets all your fluids moving in the stomach and the liver and the pancreas and the saliva, right? Get those moving along. There’s a particular activation of liver processing of toxins or waste products. So, if you take all of that and metaphorasize it a little bit, you know, we’re talking about processes of assimilation and transformation that are being enhanced by this plant.

Katja (39:20):
And then elimination.

Ryn (39:21):
Right. Yeah. So, we need to do those things on emotional and mental, psychological levels as well, right? You know we need to digest the information and experiences that we have. We need to process them so we can separate out the useful stuff that we want to keep and the stuff we don’t need any more that we have to let go of. So St. J helps with all of those things.

Katja (39:43):
Yeah. That’s exactly what I wanted to say. That was perfect.

Ryn (39:50):
You know, yarrow is actually kind of similar to St. John’s wort. When we run into cases where we can’t give St. John’s wort because of the drug interaction issue, very frequently I’ll just put yarrow right in there and say, let you serve the same goals, right? It has a similar flavor profile. It’s a little more aromatic than St. John’s wort. It’s a different kind of stimulation and motivation. But there’s a lot of crossover there and it’s targeting a lot of the same systems. Yarrow has got more of a kidney activity though, and a diarretic quality to it. So, especially if you have one of those damp style constitutions, it’s a really good herb to consider.

Katja (40:25):
And if your mental state is also very damp and like foggy, you know? Like I’m not just sad and down, but I am also just shrouded in this like dark black fog.

Ryn (40:39):
Yarrow and St. John’s wort are both bright herbs.

Katja (40:42):
Right. But even like you kind of mentally need to just pee out your bad feelings. I was trying to think of a classier way to say that. But like, you know, like when your bladder is full and you’re like, I really gotta pee, and then you feel better. And then, but like mentally your bad emotions are full. And they’re full and they’re heavy and they’re wet and they’re…

Ryn (41:14):
Drain it out.

Katja (41:14):
Yeah. You just need to drain it out. Yeah. Yarrow.

Ryn (41:20):
But literally, though, like draining is an important physical and emotional process. You know, calendula is a draining herb. Heather is a draining herb. You know, even dandelion leaf, right, just to get that stuff moving. But calendula and heather are worth, are worth exploring a little more though. Calendula’s another healer, right? A protective, anti-inflammatory, yes, but wound healing plant. And calendula is another light herb, another bright herb, you know, like the yarrow and the St. John’s wort. Just look at the flowers, they’ll tell you. Like, yeah, we’re in the sun. That’s what we bring.

Katja (41:56):
Yeah. And there’s that lymphatic stimulation. And especially as we’ve been collating all the information around Alzheimer’s and dementia and the effects of not clearing crud out of the brain. And that’s real. The glymphatic system – it’s like your lymphatic system for your brain – when it’s not functioning well, and everything is sort of collecting in the brain, ultimately, that’s going to leave to lead to cognitive impaired function, but with better grammar there. But in the short term that also has emotional effects that you just have all this crud just sitting around and you need to clear that out. And so, I’m really thinking about that too, with herbs like calendula. That, you know, we don’t have any direct evidence yet that calendula helps the glymphatic system, but we only just discovered the glymphatic system like a minute ago. So…

Ryn (43:12):
Yeah. It’s that, and it’s also that the stuff that accumulates in the brain, it’s not like it’s separate from, you know, stagnant accumulations elsewhere in the body. Like there is, yes, local metabolic waste products in the brain tissue itself that needs to get cleared away. But there’s also stuff that sneaks into the brain from other places in the body when your whole system detox or clearance functions aren’t working effectively.

Katja (43:38):
Yeah. We’re supposed to have a blood brain barrier that prevents that from happening. But when things aren’t working right in the body…

Ryn (43:46):
You start to catalog all the different ways, all the different factors that can impair barrier function in your body, at your gut, at your skin, at your brain. And you’re like, wow, there are so many, and most of us are swimming in them.

Katja (43:59):
Right. Just because the blood brain barrier is supposed to filter things out and not let them into your brain does not mean that that is functioning well. Like my muscles are supposed to let me, you know, cross the monkey bars, but whether or not I practice that, you know, so anyway.

Ryn (44:17):
Maintain that, provide what’s needed. Yeah.

Katja (44:19):

Today’s Tea Blend

Ryn (44:20):
So yeah, we want to keep things flowing and keep things moving around. And the mental is going to mirror the physical. What we get with that. You know, the tea blend that we made today actually puts together a whole bunch of these, well that you made today, puts together a whole bunch of these activities.

Katja (44:37):
That’s true. So today’s tea is pine and mugwort, hawthorn, orange peel, damiana, Pedicularis, and wood betony. So that’s two plants that are called wood betony depending on where you live.

Ryn (44:54):
Betony and betony – Pedicularis and Stachys together. I’m not sure how your proportions went, but as a formula we see here, right. We see physical and mental relaxation. We see circulation, movement of blood, movement of fluids. We see digestive stimulation, orange peel. Don’t neglect it as a bitter, right? Like the sour flavor really comes through, but it delivers a bunch of bitter elements.

Katja (45:20):
It still has that. Yeah. And it’s complex too. It really has a complex flavor.

Ryn (45:26):
It’s really good with mugwort.

Katja (45:27):
Mugwort and pine. Yeah. They all, yeah.

Ryn (45:29):
Yeah. They go together really nicely. Yeah. And you have those like a whole range of different kinds of aromatics, you know, to release tension, to stimulate movement, to awaken the mind. There’s some euphoric activity going on here.

Katja (45:43):
And also some just straight relaxation and heart support, nervous system relaxation. Yeah. the proportions were, let’s see, pine, mugwort, and damiana, and Stachys – wood betony, were all equal parts. I would say like maybe two to three tablespoons. This is in a two and a half liter container. So that was like two to three tablespoons. Orange peel was like one and a half mandarin, like one and a half tangerines worth of orange peel. Hawthorn was like one tablespoon.

Ryn (46:25):

Katja (46:25):
Of the berries. And Pedicularis was two full flower stalks. Was that everybody? Yeah. That’s everybody.

Ryn (46:37):
Nice, nice blend. So, yeah that’s a whole bunch of different ways to think about that issue. And also remember that the point here wasn’t these specific plants, but it was like trying to identify your patterns and then thinking about herbs that can adjust them, whether that’s like, let’s really turn that all the way around or whether that’s like a slight redirection of energy, you know. These are all different kinds of things that we may want to do. So the more that you can identify your own, your own patterns of discomfort. What is it you’re actually feeling when you feel uncomfortable, when you feel upset. And oftentimes that’s the moment when you’re least interested in doing some introspection or some self scanning or that kind of thing. But the more you’re able to do that, or the more you’re able to listen to the people who are close to you, and find a nice calm moment where you’re settled and happy to receive some of that. Like, what is it, what do I do when I’m upset? I don’t know. I’m not even sure, you know.

Katja (47:37):
I’m too upset to even realize. Yeah.

Ryn (47:39):
And to recognize again, that you’re not, you haven’t failed as a human because of this. You are doing what everybody else is doing, even those monks who came up with the sacred sequence of syllables.

Katja (47:49):
Right. Like how could anything go wrong if you’re a monk and all you do is sit all day and meditate. Like no, listen, brains are wonky. They’re just wonky. Even the person that you’re imagining in your mind with the most perfect life ever still has to deal with this.

Ryn (48:09):
So, herbs can help us do it, and now they can help you too.

Katja (48:15):
Well, excellent. I’m really excited that we got to talk about that. I think that not only is this true for everybody all the time, but right now it’s sort of like bonus, special, extra true.

Ryn (48:32):
You may find yourself in close quarters with people for more hours of the day than you used to.

Katja (48:36):
And with way more worries than maybe you had before, and a lot of extra bonus unknowns and anxiousness flying around everywhere. So, you know, take a calm moment when you’re feeling kind of mostly all right. And spend a little time sort of thinking about when you get down and like what might be able to help you. Or as you were listening to this, if any of that resonated with you, just get those herbs out and put them someplace where they’re easy. Because of course, when you’re feeling like this, you don’t actually want to help yourself very much. So, you have to make it super easy to do. But if you put it out now someplace where it’s going to be super easy, super accessible, then the next time that you’re feeling bad it might help. And it might take several rounds to actually even do it the first time. Because you might feel bad and you might be like, well, I don’t care about past me who put the hawthorn here. So I would feel better like, screw her, like whatever. It might take you several rounds to be like, oh, fine. I’ll just take the stupid hawthorn, you know, or whatever. And this is a practice, absolutely. It is not necessarily like a one and done kind of a thing. But that’s okay.

Ryn (50:01):
Yeah. That’s okay. All right. Well now you’ve got some homework to practice. So we’ll be back next week with some more Holistic Herbalism podcast for you. I don’t know. Maybe we’ll do a Samhain/Halloween special situation.

Katja (50:14):
Oh, it’s time. Oh, oh yes. Let’s definitely do that.

Ryn (50:19):
That could be what’s up.

Katja (50:19):
I just had a huge idea pop right into my head. So stay tuned.

Ryn (50:25):
Sounds good. All right. Until then, take care of yourselves. Take care of each other and drink some tea.

Katja (50:30):
Drink some tea.

Ryn (50:31):

Katja (50:32):


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