Podcast 141: Herbs and Grief, at the Death of the Year

Samhain, Halloween, the death of the year – this is a good time to talk about grieving, and about how herbs and grief can go together. It’s a universal human experience, but one we don’t often allow ourselves to experience and explore, because it is painful and difficult. It can often seem like there are only a few ‘approved’ ways to move through a grieving process, but everyone grieves in their own way. Learning how to respond, rather than react, to our grief is something we must each navigate.

A Halloween that is only about sugar and sweets doesn’t teach us these skills. But the plants are there to remind us: this is a time to die back, to go underground, to process the deep dark parts of ourselves. This is what allows transformation, new growth. When we work with herbs and grief rituals, the focus is on letting go of what’s no longer serving us: allowing death to what has run its course. That includes our own ideas of ourselves which are no longer serving us, too.

There are a lot of places where herbs and grief come together. Some herbs help us get into that introspective place, some help us feel protected while we’re there. Some herbs protect the heart, or circulate our inner waters, or open up our lungs – traditionally associated with grief in many cultures. Other herbs help us move through liminal spaces like dreaming, or to access our own inner wisdom from those realms. Whatever kind of support you need, there’s an herb who can help you.

Herbs discussed in this episode include: calamus, rose, hawthorn, linden, heather, self-heal, elecampane, lungwort, catnip, chamomile, yarrow, st john’s wort, vervain, goldenrod, jiaogulan, mugwort, bittergrass, bittersweet nightshade, vanilla.

This material is part of our Neurological & Emotional Health course! It’s a user’s guide to your nerves & your emotions – including the difficult and dark ones. 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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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 (00:00:02):
Hi, I’m Katja.

Ryn (00:00:02):
And I’m Ryn.

Katja (00:00:02):
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 week we have a light and fluffy topic for everybody.

Katja (00:00:32):
Yeah. This week we want to talk about grief, which feels pretty appropriate at this time of year. And we’ve been making a lot more material for the mental health section of the neurological and emotional health course the past week. And we’ve been talking a lot about grief. So being that it is Samhain or Halloween or whatever you culturally refer to this time of year as, it feels right to talk about grief right now.

Ryn (00:01:07):
Yeah. Before we dive in, we wanted to remind you that we are not doctors or psychiatrists for that matter. We are herbalists and holistic health educators.

Katja (00:01:16):
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 (00:01:37):
Yeah. And we just want to remind you that good health is your right and your own personal responsibility. And this means that the final decision when you’re considering any course of therapy, whether it’s been discussed on the internet or prescribed by a physician, is always yours. Yeah. All right.

Katja (00:01:55):
Well, you know, to jump into this, let’s maybe start off by defining grief, which might sound like a strange thing to say it needs a definition. But in our culture, it really seems like there’s only one permissible time to feel grief. And that’s if a person very close to you dies. And even that like has to be defined as very close. Like if the person isn’t perceived as close enough to you, or like important enough in your life, then culturally you’re not necessarily allowed to have grief for their death. Culturally you might be ridiculed for feeling sadness.

Ryn (00:02:42):
Yeah, that really happens. You know, but everyone experiences grief and everyone experiences it in a somewhat different way, because that’s how experience goes in in humans and in subjective reality. But grief has so many different facets even for any one person, right? Your grief is not only one thing. It’s going to express itself in different ways. So, you know, loss, death, that’s real, and that’s going to contribute to grief, but that’s not limited only to a very close relative. You can feel grief to lose anyone who’s important to you. Even the ones who are not human.

Katja (00:03:20):

Ryn (00:03:21):
And, you know, people are familiar with that when it’s like a pet, you know.

Katja (00:03:26):
Like my dog or my cat.

Ryn (00:03:26):
Your dog for a long time. Yeah. But sometimes we’ve realized that one of the favorite trees that I used to walk by every day on my way to work has been cut down and like feeling some grief for that. And not everybody really understands.

Katja (00:03:42):
Right. Or like another national park and conservation area has been opened up to logging or drilling or whatever. And not everybody acknowledges that that loss is valid for grief.

Ryn (00:03:55):
Yeah. You know, so you can lose a relationship. You can lose a job. You can lose an identity, a dream, a long-held expectation. And any of those losses can lead to grief. Grief can be a factor in so many different kinds of hurt as well, right? The hurt you experience when someone lets you down or when you feel like you’re completely unsupported by people that you think should be supporting you. Or the hurts that we cause ourselves when we’re experiencing self-loathing kind of feelings. So there’s lots of ways that we can experience grief.

Katja (00:04:28):
Yeah. So that’s kind of the first thing, right? Is to open up our definition of grief. And in that work, I can’t believe I have to say this, but also to legitimize grief. Feelings are feelings. And if you are feeling something, then you are. So that feeling might not be convenient, or it might surprise you. It might embarrass you. It might not serve you. But it’s a feeling and you are feeling it. So it is a thing. It is real.

Ryn (00:05:00):
That’s your real feeling. Yeah. This is also a good time to note that feelings are just feelings. I, yeah, they’re inherently legitimate, right? Because they exist because you’re experiencing them. But at the same time, we don’t have to act on every one of them, or maybe even to act on the first most way that rises to mind of any one of them. You know, if I feel grief and I want to lash out at someone to transfer my pain away for awhile, that action is not legitimate, right? But the feeling of wanting to do that, that’s human. That’s something everybody does. Animals do it too, you know? So when we make this big statement like all of your feelings are legitimate, we don’t want that to be misunderstood to mean and they’re all true in exactly the way you thought they were the first time you notice the feeling. And you should act on them in whatever way makes it feel better right now, even for a short moment. Yeah. No, that’s not quite what we’re getting at here.

Katja (00:05:59):
Right. That actually gets really wound up in the whole tricky part of this. Because when we have a feeling, whether it is grief or anger or fear, whatever, we have options about that feeling. That feeling is real. It is there. But we can respond to that feeling, which is to say, we can be aware of it and take action that is healthy and helpful. Or we can react to that feeling, which is to say, we can act out on how we feel without really thinking through the implications of our actions. And honestly, that’s where Christmas decorations come into our story here.

Ryn (00:06:36):
Yeah. Wait for it. It’s coming, right? But because in order to respond to a feeling, to respond rather than reacting, we need to take a little time to be with it. When we don’t sit with it, when we don’t spend a little time getting to know the feeling to understand the shape of it, then we just react. And that’s where we can get into trouble. Again, that act of hurting other people to transfer our pain, that’s a reaction and a very common one. But it’s like, ack, get it away from me, get it out of me, give it to someone else if I have to.

Katja (00:07:08):
Hot potato.

Ryn (00:07:08):
Right. And that’s natural, but it doesn’t make it okay for anybody in the circumstance. Not for the person you throw your pain onto, and not for you either.

Removing the Bitterness from Our Story

Katja (00:07:19):
So today is Samhain or Halloween or all the different ways that different cultures refer to this time. It is the death of the year. And traditionally, this is a time when we’re acknowledging death. We are honoring our ancestors, facing our own fears about death. And here death, I mean, not just in terms of mortality, but also in terms of change or in letting go. Changing who we are, changing how we behave, letting go of things that we don’t need anymore. And that’s work. Allowing ourselves to let go of things and move past them is hard. And it takes a season. It doesn’t just happen overnight. But in our current culture, we don’t really have the time to do this work. We actively crowd out this kind of work, actually. We’ve cut out bitter things from our food, right? We invented high fructose corn syrup and we dismissed all the bitter foods, except like coffee and we put a lot of sugar in that, you know. We’ve cut bitterness out of our story and our media environment, right? We are the land of movies with happy endings and the underdog wins and all of that. We’ve cut them out of our work environment, right? Smiling, happy customer service, 100% of the time, which by the way, nobody can actually do, right? We are not customer service robots, and we’ve even cut time for introspection around death. And, and these sorts of feelings of grief. We have cut them out of the calendar. Because Christmas decoration starts showing up in stores before Halloween has even happened. And even at that, of course, Halloween has also been shifted from a time that we think about our ancestors and think about what death means to us, to like this giant orgy of sweetness. We have covered over all of those grief and bitter feelings with candy, right? So the message here that we’re getting from all the parts of our culture is don’t think about death. Don’t think about dark things. Just be happy all the time. Don’t ever take the time to think about what these things mean.

Ryn (00:09:37):
Yeah. And removing a time like that, removing from our wheel of the year, a time where we’re culturally allowed and expected and together working to spend some time wrestling with these darker thoughts. When we take that out of our lives, that’s actually not great for our mental health. It’s like this giant middle finger right into the face of the existence of grief at all. And while we might like to not have it in our lives anymore, it is inevitable. So, you know, as a group we’re over here saying, no, no, no, that’s not a thing. That’s not a thing. And there’s no time to reflect, to be introspective, to respond to our grief rather than just reacting to it, because we’ve tried as much as possible to make it not a thing. And that doesn’t really allow you to spend the time to get to know it, to feel the shape of it, and then to change the way that you respond. So yeah, so we get stuck that way.

Katja (00:10:29):
Even aside from the culturally allocated time when we as a group, as a society are supposed to practice taking time to think about these darker weighty emotions. Even like in our own personal lives, we are constantly offered distractions and mental stimulation that fill the space so that we can’t really do this work, in the form of another bingeable Netflix series or doom scrolling on Twitter or whatever. And these distractions, we sort of think of them as filling empty space. Like maybe you’re looking at Twitter in line at the grocery store or something like that, like while you’re waiting for something. But that space is not actually empty. Historically we would have had so much more empty space in our lives. And we would have used that time for introspection. Whether or not that introspection would have been successful is a totally different issue, right? Because introspection is difficult and doing it and then successfully working with what you find there is not easy. So, I don’t mean that it just magically happened when there weren’t electronic inputs, but at least we had much more time to work on it. If you think about hours spent gardening or spinning wool or working wood or working in the fields or tending animals, all of that without podcasts or even radios, you know, like whatever. That time of repetitive physical work freed up our minds to kind of percolate on all the stuff that’s inside. And that’s time that human brains have actually always had. We evolved in that kind of environment with plenty of time to sort through our thoughts and feelings. And every time we do, every time we get them out and look at them, we change them a little bit, right? That can be good. We can soften. We can feel differently in the morning, you know. We can acknowledge sometime later, oh, maybe I was wrong about that. Of course also we can spin ourselves up and become more angry or more hurt or more, you know, regretful, whatever. That is absolutely a thing that happens too. And I don’t mean to imply that if we just simply didn’t have podcasts and radios and whatever else, then obviously we would all say, oh, maybe I was wrong, like whatever.

Ryn (00:13:02):
And you know, occasionally a podcast can help you to investigate your feelings, to see yourself a little more clearly. Sometimes a podcast could do that.

Tidying Up Our Emotions

Katja (00:13:10):
Yes, hopefully. Gut at any rate this work, this introspection, needs to be done regularly. It is like doing the dishes, right? We need some time to tidy up our emotions intentionally. We do this physiologically as we tidy up the brain, as we clear out metabolic waste with the glymphatic system and all the different ways that we clear things out. We process things, but we have to allocate some time to do that work. And our brains developed in an environment where we had plenty of time to do that work.

Ryn (00:13:48):
Yeah. There’s also an element here around the grief that we associate with our own ideas of ourselves, and the pain that we feel when we’ve been hurt or when we’ve been let down by other people. There’s this kind of grief that isn’t associated necessarily with loss or with death, but with the ways that we’ve been treated by others and the way that we’ve treated ourselves. So there needs to be some time to recognize that pain. And in that recognition is the invitation to do the work, to transform the pain or our relationship to it. But again, our culture doesn’t really make space for this. And honestly, this is the work that we do when we seek out something like therapy. But in many places there’s still a really strong stigma around, around people seeking out therapy. Therapy is really just talking through our pain and our behaviors around that pain and trying to find ways to live more comfortably within our skin, which is often what we talk about with our friends, our family anyway. But a therapist is someone who’s had training in the ways to make that kind of transformation, you know. They guide people through it. But in a culture or in a living situation where there is this kind of stigma still attached to seeking therapy, we do need to recognize that that implies a kind of hostility to seeking time to engage in this work at all, you know, even on your own power. But it is something that needs to be done regularly. It’s like you said, it’s like doing the dishes, you know?

Katja (00:15:17):
Yeah. It is uncomfortable to do this sort of self-reflection work or this building awareness work, this acknowledging of the things in our lives and in our behaviors that are causing us pain and grief. Maybe it’s a little easier when it’s sort of clear cut like a death. Although I don’t think I’ve ever met a death that wasn’t also complicated. Every part of this work is complex regardless of the origin of the grief. But we still have to do the work for our own emotional and mental health and for our growth as people. And then, especially for those of us who are practicing herbalists who want to work with other people, it is important to do this work so that we can do our work with others. If we’re not pushing ourselves to grow and change in ways that are healthier for us and to take the time to look at our pain and our grief and to see how that shapes our behaviors, and then to make the changes that are necessary for us to live more comfortably or to say, to live in better mental health, then how can we ask other people to grow and change in order to build healthier lives for themselves? Because as clinical herbalists or as herbalists who work with the public, that is what we’re doing. I think every single part of herbalism involves behavior change, even if that behavior change is just you’re going to drink this tea three times a day. It is still a change in the way that you go through your normal day.

Ryn (00:16:55):
Yeah. Right. You know, and to be clear this doesn’t mean that in order to be a helpful practitioner we need to have all of our own issue totally under control, everything’s battened down. Everything’s totally fine in here, right? It just means that we need to make sure that we are working on our own awareness of the issues that we carry. Working through our own issues makes us better practitioners. Dealing with our challenges as we make changes in our own lives helps us to have more creativity and inspiration when folks ask us to help them make those kinds of changes in their lives.

Katja (00:17:29):
You know, and even just to have more compassion when someone comes in and they’re like, I just can’t give up sugar. And you’re like, yeah, I struggle with that too. I also struggle with giving up sugar. And so here are the ways that I found to support that change. And here are the places where I’m still having trouble, and we can struggle in that together. That is a wonderful feeling of comradery in this life. To hear from a person that you’ve come to for help, that they too have that kind of struggle. Nobody wants to be like, oh, well, it’s easy for you, and I guess there’s something wrong with me. So as practitioners we don’t have to think, oh, I always like, I have to be the one who does it right. That’s not a role that we need to inhabit. And that’s good because that’s also not a role that we can inhabit because we are human.

Ryn (00:18:24):
Yeah. In the end. If only we could be plants, then maybe we would have that all figured out.

Katja (00:18:30):
Right. Or cats.

Ryn (00:18:32):
Yeah. Helpful cats want to be in the podcast. You know, in our practice, our personal practice, the two of us – and practice here, this isn’t just the herbal work that we do, but also our spiritual practices, our life practices – we see this time of the year as a time to work through the things that we don’t need anymore. And always October is a difficult month, you know.

Katja (00:18:59):
It’s not the most fun month of the year.

A Time for Letting Go

Ryn (00:18:59):
As we approach Samhain, as we approach this time. But you know, this is a time of the year to work through things that we don’t need anymore. Habits that aren’t serving us, grudges that don’t need to get carried around any longer, old ways of thinking that are holding us back, patterns of reaction to pain or to grief that we’re trying to avoid, patterns that we’re trying to recognize and trying to change, whatever it might be. Sometimes these things identify themselves as blocks in our lives that we need to get to work removing in order for us to move forward. And other times we might become aware of them through contemplation, meditation. But sometimes these things have been with us for a really long time, for so long that we don’t realize the negative impact that they’re having. And then we need to spend some time in awareness to identify them and to recognize that it’s time to let it go.

Katja (00:19:55):
Yeah, we try to take this whole season, right? The dead time of the year when the plants have all died back and the days are growing shorter. As we move towards the solstice, to not just identify these things and reflect on them, but also to find better ways to respond to them in awareness. And to let go of the things that we don’t need. Th work doesn’t happen overnight. So, honestly we need this whole season to work on identifying and shifting into the changes that we need to make. And also just practice. Just like when there is a loss, you kind of have to practice living without that thing, living without, you know, how do you get up in the morning and make your coffee and go through your day? That is true if it is the loss of a loved one or if it is the loss of a habit. Either way you still need to wake up in the morning and figure out how you get through your day as a different person in a changed environment, even if you are the one choosing to make the change.

Ryn (00:21:02):
Yeah. So, you know, the first thing about taking some time to build some awareness around what things we maybe don’t want to bring with us into the new year is to make some space for introspection. Or call it meditation, call it prayer, whatever framework you have for that. Whether that’s going for a walk without some headphones for once, letting your mind ponder while you’re doing some chores, or taking some specific meditation time aside to do this work. You know, we both find that repetitive physical activity can be really helpful for getting into this space and doing this kind of work. It can be more comfortable than just sitting still. And when our hands are busy with work that we don’t really have to think about so much, our minds, they have time and they have space to turn to other things.

Katja (00:21:49):
Yeah. Even once you have identified the things that you want to work on, it still does not happen magically. It’s difficult to do this work, even if we know that holding onto this stuff is painful, right? It’s still a pain that we know. We’ve spent a long time with these thoughts. We’ve spent a long time with these habits. We’ve spent a long time with these identities or grudges or whatever else it is that we are ready to part ways with. We’re ready to lose them actually, but letting go of them brings with it aspects of fear and uncertainty. Like, what will I be if I’m not that. What will I be if I let go of that grudge. What will I be if I release the anger and just focus on the pain and the grief that comes around with that. And honestly, even letting go of grief is challenging. Like it’s sadness and you would rather be happy. But especially when grief has been with you for a long time, it’s part of who you are. It is hard. Even though it seems like it would be a relief, it is still hard to let go of it. And then there can be frustration because despite our best intentions to make the changes that we see as valuable, and despite our dedication to those changes, the old habits creep back in sometimes. And we have to hold on to that intention to change over time, and practice not only letting the things go, but practice being who we are without them, whatever that them is. Whether that is a loved one, a habit, or whatever, the thing that we are grieving, we have to learn who we are now that that is not in our lives in the way that it was before.

Ryn (00:23:41):

Katja (00:23:41):
I know.

Making Friends with Your Unique Grief

Ryn (00:23:44):
Okay. All right. So now that we’ve spent all this time saying, wow, this is hard stuff. It’s time to think about some ways that we can make that easier, including some plants that can help you in this work, that can be with us with that. So, you know, all these different forms of grief, they do require this kind of sustained effort. This kind of figuring out how to live differently than we did before. They require us to have the courage to see our grief maybe just in a little short spurt, you know, one moment at a time. We don’t have to sit there and stare at it all day long. But you know, to see it, to get to know it, to make friends with it, even though, okay, that sounds kind of cliche. Make friends with your grief and all of that. But it is a good analogy, honestly. What is required to make friends with somebody? Well, it doesn’t happen in one moment. It doesn’t usually happen like overnight. You know, you have to figure out who that person is and see them in different contexts. And see them when they’re having a rough day and when they’re having a good day and every kind of day in between to really know somebody, to have a real friendship with them. So that’s the same kind of thing we’re going to need to do with grief, and herbs can help us get into those mental spaces.

Katja (00:24:56):
Yes. Herbs are going to be really helpful throughout all of those. Before we talk about the herbs, there’s one more thing that I want to add in here, and that is to focus just for a moment on the reality that everyone’s grief is different. There are cycles of grief and stages, but also our own personalities and our cultural norms and just the reality of day-to-day life play into our experiences of grief. So, in other words, if a dear loved one has died, that doesn’t mean that you’re never allowed to laugh again, right? That doesn’t mean that you can’t go back to work and work hard. You’re allowed to hold your grief in one space so that you don’t have to sit with it 24/7. You’re allowed to not talk to people about it and not want people to talk about it to you. You’re allowed to go out to dinner. You’re allowed to live your life, and you’re also allowed to fall apart and cry all day long. You’re allowed to take time off of work, assuming that you’re allowed to take time off of work. You’re allowed to only talk about your sadness. And you’re allowed to do all of these things concurrently, you know, from one minute to the next feeling a little bit differently about how you want to interact with your grief. You can be as private or as public or as conflicted or as contained or whatever the opposite of contained is. Whatever you are, you’re allowed to be who you are, and you’re allowed to be in relationship with your grief in the way that you are. So, I’m not exactly sure where that part fits in our discussion here, but I really wanted to make sure that we say it. Because our society has not just constrained the conditions under which we’re allowed to use the word grief, but also what expressions of grief are allowed to look like. So, I really want to be clear that it’s allowed to look like what it looks like for you. I can remember years ago, a psychiatrist I was working with mentioned that these days if you were still sad two weeks after your spouse died, the guidelines were that you should be medicated so that you can function normally.

Ryn (00:27:20):
I remember that,, because you came home and told me about it, and I was like, what? Are you kidding? That can’t be real.

Katja (00:27:27):
Yeah. I mean we both were really appalled.

Ryn (00:27:31):

Katja (00:27:32):
And I was thinking about how utterly inappropriate it wa, because like who is supposed to be over that kind of grief in two weeks. But the more that I thought about it, I think this was probably true for both of us, the more that I realized that grief is really different for everyone. And the way that we handle our grief is really different for everyone. And the way that we seek help and support for our grief is different for everyone. And besides that there are still bills to pay, because we do not support one another in this culture. There may be children or dependents to take care of and who knows what else. So, although in that moment of hearing it, I felt like culturally it was such a slap in the face.

Ryn (00:28:23):
Yeah. And I mean, the problem…so, look, if somebody can process their grief in a couple of weeks and they’re moving on with their life and they’re, you know, all of that, great. But to mandate and to say like, if you haven’t done it by this time, then now we need to give you drugs. That’s what we object to.

Katja (00:28:37):
Yeah. Like we see that as inappropriate, as something that needs to be fixed. Yeah. In reality, I want every person to have the time and the space to work through all of the ways in which we experience grief and all of the ways in which we’re hurting. But that process is just not going to look the same for every person. So what I really want as a society that creates space for everyone to do the work that they need to do to be healthy in the way that they need to do it. And that support for that is available, whether it is yes, in order to get through my day, I’m going to need to seek some psychiatric care and some, maybe even medication. Or whether that is I just need some time to like, be in my room by myself. Or whether that is, I just want to go back to work and be in my work. Whatever the expression is, I want us to have a society that can support one another through it.

Ryn (00:29:38):
Yeah. And that’s also, you know, this individual variation in the way that grief is going to manifest for you and how you’re going to move through it. That’s also why there’s not like these are the herbs for grief.

Katja (00:29:48):

Ryn (00:29:48):
But, you know, so we’re going to talk about some herbs now. And remember herbalism is always about the individual, at least the way we practice. It’s about recognizing what’s going on and what we are trying to shift or what we’re trying to rebalance, and then choosing herbs that can help to do that. So we have a number of ideas about herbs that we think could be relevant for various kinds of grief processing work that you may find yourself doing, or you may want to help somebody else to move through. But this is not an exhaustive list. And there are many other ways that herbs could be helpful here.

Katja (00:30:24):
Yeah. And also see this list as kind of like a buffet where you can, you know, when you see the ones that you think, Oh, that is something I experience, I could use help with that. And then also this is something I experience and I could use help with that. Even if they’re conflicting things or things that don’t seem to match one another, that’s okay. Because you may feel them in different times or you may feel them at the same time, that all these things are real. So sort of just take the ones that you need in the moment that you need them to manage what you are experiencing right then.

Herbal Processing & Protection: Calamus, Rose, Hawthorn, & Linden

Ryn (00:31:02):
Yeah. Well, the first herb that I’d like to speak about here is calamus. Yeah. So calamus, it’s a bitter rhizome, you know. It lives near the water.

Katja (00:31:14):
It looks a lot like ginger.

Ryn (00:31:15):
Or in the water even. And calamus is a really intriguing plant, because it has a lot of bitterness to it and it has pungency. It’s like ginger, but with bitterness on it.

Katja (00:31:26):
Yeah. I think that’s a really, that’s the perfect way to say it. Bitter ginger.

Ryn (00:31:31):
Yeah. You’ll see a number of bitter herbs pop up in our discussion here. And in some ways the bitter flavor can help us to process bitter emotions, or to be more comfortable with experiencing them. When we teach people how to work with bitters in like, you know, your first day of herbalism class, a large part of it is to say just sit with the flavor. Just take it, taste it, make a face if you need to, you know, but then let that flavor be there.

Katja (00:32:01):
Let it in.

Ryn (00:32:01):
Yeah. Right. And like you had mentioned, you know, we’ve cut out bitter flavor from our lives in the U.S. and in the kind of monoculture to a large extent. And re-introducing bitter can be helpful just in and of itself, just in that way. But calamus is more than just a bitter plant. Calamus also has some effects on your mind and your emotions. It has effects on your physiology, on your digestion, you know, all that kind of thing. But on your mind and emotions as well, calamus brings in this relaxant quality. And specifically what we find is that it helps you to get out of like tunnel vision and open up into wide angle vision. And not just vision, but your other senses as well. So,

Katja (00:32:47):
And that vision kind of goes in both ways, right? Like if you think about introspection and the kind of vision that you’re employing for introspection, you can be like very tunneled. Like that hurt, that hurt get away from it. That hurt. I don’t want it. I’m angry about it, whatever. And then you can widen your view of that feeling. And you can say I’m angry because I’m hurt and I want to get away from it because I feel sad, and those sorts of feelings. And it helps you to kind of broaden your understanding of what you’re looking at in your head.

Ryn (00:33:25):

Katja (00:33:25):
Or in your you wherever.

Ryn (00:33:25):
You see more of the context. Yeah. So, you know, I find calamus helpful to get into that introspective space or meditative space. It’s a very helpful herb for people who have difficulty meditating. Take some calamus beforehand. Let that be part of the process that you go through to get there.

Katja (00:33:46):
I want to put Rose right here as well. Rose is a plant that is very helpful when you need some protection and doing this work is risky, you know. It’s vulnerable. And it’s not necessarily easy for us to allow ourselves to be vulnerable, even when we are only being vulnerable inside of our own selves. You know, like even when we are the only ones seeing ourselves be vulnerable, it is still often very difficult to do. And Rose, I know that I have said this before, but I just can’t get over the relevance of the physical structure of wild rose bushes. They’re brambles. They are these long vines that arch over into kind of like umbrella forms, and they create these brambles. And if you look at them, there are little pathways through, on the ground, through the brambles. And those little pathways are the bunnies and the squirrels and the little furry creatures who are prey animals who are finding safety in the thorns of the rose bush. They’re small enough that they can get in there and hide in that space. And the hawks and the foxes and the other things that think they would be a delicious dinner can’t get to them in that space. And that is, like, that’s it, like a soft furry little vulnerable thing that what you want to do is hold and cuddle, right? That’s how you feel when you want to really open yourself to the truth of what’s inside, you know. And doing that leaves us vulnerable to, even to only ourselves, to those parts of ourselves that have learned to cut ourselves down, that have learned to tell ourselves we’re not worth it. We’re not good enough. We’re not valuable. Whatever we heard growing up, you know. Whatever we heard from society that we’re not valid, we shouldn’t even exist. And those messages that we received, we also embody. And so when we open ourselves up, even just alone with our own selves, those things are still there waiting to pounce. And I think that’s part of why this work is so scary. So, you know, I really love rose in terms of providing that protective space. And I particularly love rose and calamus together in this context. Because if we’re going to work with calamus to help ourselves open up, let’s do that in the construct of a very safe space. Where, you know, the metaphorical foxes and hawks of our minds can’t get in.

Ryn (00:37:00):
Yeah. And I feel like we’ve had some excellent remedies or elixirs or something made with calamus and rose together.

Katja (00:37:08):
Yeah. I actually, I have one right now that I’ve been really, oh, it’s actually right here because I’ve been literally taking it a ton lately. This one is rose and hawthorn and calamus and also there’s violet leaf in here too. Violet is just sort of a very heart softening kind of a plant. But this has been really wonderful. And the hawthorn in there, you know, we often talk about hawthorn and linden both together as the very first herbs you hear about grief. And for hawthorn in that context, there’s a lot that hawthorn’s got going for it in terms of physiologically supporting the heart, nourishing the heart, promoting blood flow to the heart, not blood through the heart, but the blood that comes to feed the heart. But also, sort of on the emotional level the same, like nourishing the heart. Like when you feel that there’s a hole in the heart, to replenish what has been lost. And also hawthorn has this tremendous thorn aspect as well. It’s not on the ground, like it is a tree. But still the birds and even the squirrels and whoever can hide in there very effectively from larger creatures, because the thorns are pretty intense. Those thorns actually are for protecting the hawthorn itself from from the giant sloth, which doesn’t, you know, that went extinct millennia ago. But it was a creature that was enormous, like 3000 pounds, and would just strip entire branches of all their leaves and stuff those leaves in. And so the thorns on a hawthorn are very large and really sharp. And even the deer can actually nibble around those thorns without being hurt. But something larger is going to get poked by those thorns. And so I think that is, much like we talk about rose protecting from the hawks and the foxes. Like, if your grief is bigger, if your grief and the things that are attacking your vulnerability are like three ton creatures that are trying to consume you whole so that you literally don’t exist anymore. Like that kind of intensity. Definitely hawthorn.

Ryn (00:39:46):
Yeah. And hawthorn always makes me think of linden, you know, because not all of us have the problem of feeling, you know, too exposed or not spiny enough. Some of us are plenty spiny already, thank you. And that might’ve contributed to some of our issues in approaching our grief, right? So, some of us need a softening remedy and linden is just one of the softest herbs out there.

Katja (00:40:11):
Oh, my goodness.

Ryn (00:40:12):
Linden is so gentle. We talk about linden as a hug in a mug. And it’s just very soothing and very, it has a releasing quality as well, you know. Linden, it does have these aromatic elements that can release tension and can allow things to exit our system. When we think about fever, we think about a certain class of herbs called relaxing diaphoretics. And those are herbs that help you if you’re fevering, but really like tense and tight, to loosen that tension in your muscles, but also in the pores of the skin itself, to allow the heat out of your system. And that also functions similarly on an emotional level. To take hot, tight tense emotions and loosen them and allow them to exit your body, exit your system. So, linden has that quality. And it also has this kind of restorative quality of moistening and bringing in more fluids and making sure those fluids are moving around your system well. And that movement of inner fluids is also a really critical thing when we’re thinking about kind of the physical substrate of the emotional experience of grief. So fluid movement is sometimes accomplished with a moistening, demulcent herb like linden, especially for dry folks like me, right? You can’t move fluids if you don’t have them. So, sometimes that’s the most important part. But we also work with lymphatic herbs when we want to move fluids around. And there’s a couple of them that we find are really quite helpful when it comes to doing this kind of grief processsing.

Herbal Movers: Heather & Self Heal

Katja (00:41:52):
Yeah. Especially when we’re thinking about moving fluids. Physiologically that’s lymph, that is the extra cellular fluid. I suppose, moving fluids, it can also be blood, but what I’m really thinking about here is lymph and the extracellular interstitial fluids. And like, that’s where we gather up our trash. That’s where we gather up just the day to day dishes, you know, the cellular dishes that need to be done every day. And that metaphor is really helpful for me in terms of like, oh, I just need to tidy up.

Ryn (00:42:30):
It’s one of your favorites.

Katja (00:42:30):
It is one of my, yeah.

Ryn (00:42:33):
Gotta do the dishes.

Katja (00:42:33):
We’ve got to tidy up in here. And when we have been sitting around with grief feelings for a while, sometimes that’s necessary in our experience of grief or in our process of processing grief. But sometimes we also can get stuck in there and we can kind of stew in them a little bit too long. And then we think like, ooh, I am really saturated in this feeling and I kind of need to get a little space from it. So, yeah, so that’s why I think so much about these lymphatic herbs and the first one is heather. Physiologically heather has a great deal to do with simultaneously the heart and lymphatic movement. And there’s a long tradition of people working with heather for edemas and for fluid stagnation that comes along with cardiovascular health issues. And again, like, the more, the longer that I have practiced, the more that I recognize that the physiological effects of herbs are the same as the emotional effects of herbs and vice versa. And at first I wasn’t really able to see that because our culture tells us that our emotions are just in our mind. And then the more that I learned about human bodies and animal bodies in general, and well, while I’m at it also plant bodies and also the body of the whole world. Like, the more that I started to see reflections of all these things mirrored in different species and even in the planet as a whole and full ecosystems and whatever, the more that I realized, like, of course this is all. Like, we don’t know where our emotions are, except we kind of do. Like, we know for sure they’ve done studies on people who, when they lose weight, old emotional issues come up, because it’s been like stashed in between the fat cells. And we don’t know what emotions look like under a microscope yet. Though, who knows maybe we’re close. But we do observe that there is a direct physiological tie and it’s not all just in the physiology of the brain.

Ryn (00:44:51):

Katja (00:44:52):
So this is where I really think a lot about getting all that stuff moving. And working with heather that is a plant that already has that heart affinity just makes it really tailor made to the movement that we require when we need to sort of, we kind of get a little bit stuck in our grief processing. And we need to kind of get that going again.

Ryn (00:45:14):
And whenever I think of heather, I also think about where it grows. And I know it’s not only, but I think of like the English heath, you know, where it’s cloudy and rainy and gray. And then you have these heather flowers and they’re like on this partially exposed, rocky, spine of the land or something. But they’re just hanging out and they’re doing their thing. And then they make these beautiful little pink flowers. And you come across them and you’re like, yeah, there’s some joy over in here. You know, so, heather sometimes I picture it in a kind of grief struck environment. But it offers a little bit of delight.

Katja (00:45:48):
Yeah. Like really cold, damp, windswept, poor soil, like often, you know, with like a twinge of salt in the air or whatever.

Ryn (00:45:59):
Yeah, the whole thing.

Katja (00:46:02):
Like that’s how you feel inside when you’re like…Also, I even think all the way down to the salt in the air, like well, when you’ve been crying for a really long time, you also feel a little over salty.

Ryn (00:46:14):
Yeah, you know, self heal.

Katja (00:46:14):
Yeah. I was going to say.

Ryn (00:46:19):
So so self heal or heal-all, very evocative common name for that plant. Self heal is another one where it has that connection between the lymphatic movement, the circulating fluids in the system. And in part because of that and in part for other reasons it can protect and it can support heart function, cardiovascular function. And self heal, I think the name of it is important. I think that when we are trying to heal ourselves, it can be helpful to have a plant that’s been given that name, that’s been recognized as like, this is an herb that heals wounds.

Katja (00:46:59):
All the kinds of wounds, you know? Yeah. I mean that’s what it really comes down to. Whether it is grief from a loss, whether it is grief that we’re inflicting on ourselves through self-loathing, whether it is grief because we need to let go of something that we’ve been for a long time, whatever it is, there’s wounding happening there. There’s pain and hurt.

Ryn (00:47:23):

Herbal Instantiation: Elecampane & Lungwort

Ryn (00:47:26):
Well, a little sigh. And then let’s think about elecampane and about lungwort. So the little sigh is because in a lot of cultures the emotional pattern of grief is really strongly associated with the physical structures of the lungs. And the idea is that grief is centered in the lungs. And of course, when we feel grief, we sigh. We breathe deep. We’ve got to get through this day, you know? So, that connection makes a lot of sense if you take a little time to ponder it and feel it.

Katja (00:48:01):
Yeah. I feel like both elecampane and lungwort – I’m referring to pulmonaria here. There’s also a…

Ryn (00:48:08):
There’s a lichen.

Katja (00:48:08):
There’s a lichen that is often referred to as lungwort as well, but here I’m referring to pulmonaria. These two herbs help us with instantiation, right? Like breathing ourselves into the changes that we want to become. Making real the ideas that we are trying to embody. And that is, it literally is, to breathe life into, you know. So many of these things we can find metaphors in our language. And so I think that’s a very important one. That concept of to breathe life into something. When you see, okay, this is what I want to embody. This is the change that I’m trying to make in myself in the world. This is the change that I have to make whether I want to or not, you know, like whatever aspect of this we’re talking about. You need to breathe life into that change. And also while we’re at the idiom phase, you also need to breathe through the pain, you know? And so strengthening the function of the lungs helps very much on the emotional side of that work.

Ryn (00:49:30):
Yeah. Your lungs also, they kind of hug your heart, you know. The one on the left is like a little bit smaller to make room for the heart. Like they can fit right in there together.

Katja (00:49:42):
They’re spooning.

Ryn (00:49:42):
Yeah. So, yeah, no, it’s true, right? So elecampane, lungwort, we think about them physiologically like, get some crud out of your lungs. You know, with elecampane in particular, that’s a good like dig the phlegm out kind of expectorant. And sometimes you may feel like you’ve got a bunch of, you know, green sticky, gross kind of stuff in your emotions that you want to cough up and spit out as well.

Katja (00:50:07):
Yes. Shovel out.

Herbal Digestion: Chamomile, Catnip, Yarrow, & St. John’s Wort

Ryn (00:50:07):
Yeah. So elecampane can help there. Lungwort can help there too. While we’re taking a tour of internal organs and connecting them to the grief process, we can take a stop at our digestive apparatus. And here, you know, there’s a few herbs I think of kind of similarly, think about chamomile, catnip, even sage here. You know, these herbs, especially the catnip and chamomile, they have that relaxant quality. They’re really great when your guts are all tense and tight and locked in and that’s impairing your ability to digest, to absorb and transform, right? So think about that emotionally, think about that same pattern happening there. You know, sometimes the idea of letting go. We’re thinking about grief as a letting go process. We’re thinking about Halloween, Samhain as this time of allowing things to die, you know. Giving death to things that we don’t need anymore, don’t serve us anymore. And sometimes that idea of letting go can make you feel a lot of fear. And sometimes that feels kind of nauseating. Like I’m going to throw up because this is just too much. It can feel like this kind of rising feeling in the stomach. And that’s really when catnip is super indicated. But any of these, you know, catnip, chamomile, other digestive herbs that bring a feeling of being soothed to your own body, to your own digestion. If you’re feeling the discomfort there, choose the herbs that work there. It’s actually very simple.

Katja (00:51:39):
Yeah. It doesn’t even have to be more complicated than that. It really can be my guts hurt because of my grief. And so gut heal tea, you know. Like nobody would tell you that gut heal tea is for grief, but it is. It is helpful when it’s helpful. And if your grief is tying your guts in knots, then gut heal tea would be helpful or any variation on that.

Ryn (00:52:08):
Yeah. Right.

Katja (00:52:09):
You know yarrow and St. John’s wort are both herbs that we include in gut heal tea sometimes, especially when we want to improve liver function as part of digestive stagnation. And that is very true in terms of digesting our grief as well. And both of these plants also have an extra aspect of protection associated with them, sort of throughout tradition and myth, the lore of both of these plants has a protective aspect physiologically, but also psychologically and emotionally. And, you know, yarrow, you hear about Achilles and the mythology around Achilles who was a great warrior. And then you’ll often learn, well yarrow is very helpful for healing wounds or for dealing with wounds. And so it’s battlefield medicine and that’s why it’s associated with warriors. Okay. Yes. But also there just is an emotional armor kind of perspective around yarrow. This mythology with yarrow about the armor of Achilles and the protection of Achilles and the association of that with yarrow has been for a really long time, like a super long time. So there’s not nothing there. And even if we don’t understand, necessarily, the physiological mechanism of action behind it, sometimes we can say, you know what, there is enough anecdotal evidence for this one. I’m going to go with it. And I’m going to see if that has that effect in my own body. And in our experience it absolutely does.

Ryn (00:54:01):
Yeah, for sure. Right. And think about St. John’s wort a little bit differently. It’s a very sunny herb. You know, we like to gather it on summer solstice. That’s when it’s at its peak of potency. It really carries that energy. And you can also think about the way people take St. John’s wort to help out with depression, you know, especially when it’s a kind of black cloud depression, and it’s hard to see the light in the world. Then this herb can be really helpful there. And so that’s obviously definitely a way that grief can manifest, right? It’s like well, without them what am I, what is the point? What do I even want around here? Why bother? You know?

Katja (00:54:40):
I can’t see any sun in my life anymore.

Ryn (00:54:43):
Yeah. So in those moments, in particular St. John’s wort can be really helpful.

Herbal Others – Release & Stamina: Blue Vervain, Jiaogulan, & Goldenrod

Katja (00:54:47):
Yeah. All right. Well, I don’t have a very great segue for blue vervain and I think that’s fine because I don’t need to control every segue, but blue vervain would be so proud of me.

Ryn (00:54:58):
Wow. Look at you go. That’s amazing.

Katja (00:55:00):
In the context of grief, we think about… So blue vervain’s super power is that it actually helps you let go, helps release tension so strongly, so profoundly that it releases it not just in your body, but it releases it in your mind as well. And so in the context of grief, I think about letting go of what might’ve been. Letting go of what didn’t happen. Letting go of your expectations or the things that we can’t control. Letting go of the shields that we’ve been holding around ourselves to protect us from the hurt that we’ve experienced through our lives. You know, whatever it is that we are letting go of that is really, really hard work. And if you are like, it’s time for me to let go of this, but you’re like clamped around it like some kind of cartoon koala bear. I don’t know, you know? Then in your mind you’re like, I need to let go of this, and in your body you’re just like, forget it. I’m never letting go. Then that’s where blue vervain really can be of assistance.

Ryn (00:56:15):
Yeah. Really relaxant. Okay. Another couple of herbs we wanted to mention here: goldenrod and jiaogulan. And we can talk about these together, even though one of them gets the coveted title of being an adaptogen and the other one doesn’t. You know, that’s fine.

Katja (00:56:33):
Well, one is moistening and one is more drying, but yeah.

Ryn (00:56:37):
And they’re a little bit different from each other, but the overlap that we see here, these are both herbs that we think about and we work with when there’s a marathon going on. And that could be like, actually, we’re going to physically work, you know, with our bodies for many hours today and tomorrow and the next day, or it could be when there’s an emotional marathon that we’re moving through. Right. So I feel like this entire year we’ve been reminding each other that it”s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. That you can’t burn yourself out in your activism or in your community support work, or other things, because we’re going to need to keep going. It’s not just this one crisis that’s all the headlines right today. It’s the next one and the next one and the next one. And that can wear you down. That can make you feel like, oh, how am I ever going to keep on moving through all of it? And a very similar experience can happen with grief, right? It doesn’t all happen in a two week sprint, you know. It’s not something that you’re going to just, you know, really push through and then be done with. Grief can surprise you. It can jump up at moments you don’t expect. And, you know, you can suddenly realize that, wow, I thought I was getting over it. I thought I had processed it, but it’s still really immediate for me in these ways.

Katja (00:57:49):
In a surprising way that hasn’t been true for the last 10 days, and now suddenly it is real and immediate in my face. And like, I feel shocked about that, because hold on a second, I’ve been fine for 10 days now, you know, like whatever.

Ryn (00:58:02):
So when it feels like a marathon, when it feels like this long running thing, then jiaogulan, I’ll talk about, that can be really helpful to give you some stamina, you know. Where you’re feeling like at the last edge of my energy reserves, and I’m not sure where the rest is going to come from. You can work with jiaogulan. That kind of helps you to access some stores and move through them. But it’s a little different than just that, because it’s accessing that energy, but also helping you to generate more or to keep things working efficiently internally so that you can. And I do mean this on a physical level, but also a mental and emotional one at the same time.

Katja (00:58:42):
Jiaogulan has a moistening aspect also. So, if you are feeling dried out from your grief or like parched, or like you’ve been grieving for so long that like emotionally you look like those pictures of the desert with the cracks in between the chunks of sand, then jiaogulan can be a good choice there. Goldenrod is a little more drying. So, if you are feeling like you are still crying again, and you wish that maybe that the tears would dry up a little bit. When, you know, that kind of if your grief and pain feels very boggy, very like swampy, then goldenrod might be the better choice. To me, golden rod, like there is the scene in a movie called A Knight’s Tale, where the character, there’s a character Geoffrey Chaucer. And at some point he is walking naked on a path in a field. And he had been gambling and he like literally lost the shirt off his back. And the other character is like, what are you doing? And he says, I’m trudging, you know, in his British accent and everything. And the guy was like, what is trudging? And he was like trudging to trudge, like the determined walk of a man who has nothing left or something like that. And that was a funny scene, but like, that is also a reality in life. When it’s like the only thing to do is keep going. And that’s when I think about goldenrod.

Herbal Dreaming: Mugwort, Bitter Grass, Bittersweet Nightshade, & Vanilla

Ryn (01:00:32):
Yeah, absolutely. All right. I have another little group of herbs to think about here, and these are in the realm of dreaming. So the reason I think about these in the connection to grief is that you don’t do all of your emotional processing while you’re awake. You don’t do all of it while you’re on your meditation cushion. You don’t do all of it intentionally. And it’s probably a good thing, because it is a lot of work. And if we had to do all of it consciously, most of us wouldn’t.

Katja (01:01:00):
Also, you might explode.

Ryn (01:01:01):
Yeah, it could be really hard. So, you know, we do a lot of emotional processing unconsciously, and a lot of that happens while we sleep and especially while we dream. There’s been a lot of investigation into dreaming as critical for emotional regulation. That if we actively deprive people of REM sleep, when you’re dreaming, even if they are allowed to have the other, other forms or other stages of sleep, they will start to become more emotionally fragile, more likely to lash out, more likely to burst into tears. So dreaming can be really important if we’re dealing with grief, then sleep itself could be really important. And we could look into a whole range of herbs to improve sleep there. That could be really necessary. But I think also about herbs to work in dreaming and to even intentionally, you know, not every single day, but maybe once a week, or maybe when it’s on a particular day that you set aside, you want to do some dream work. And mugwort is a really helpful herbs for that kind of effort. Mugwort, it can often enhance your dreaming experience a little bit. We’re thinking there mainly about dream recall, but that also connects to the actual act of having the REM sleep and having the brain activity and the emotional processing that occurs there. So dreaming is enhanced by mugwort, deepened, strengthened.

Katja (01:02:29):
I feel there’s a phrase that we use a lot when we talk about mugwort and dreaming. That is it can give you agency in your dreams, which is a little bit different than saying lucid dreaming. A lot of people are familiar with the concept of lucid dreaming. But I actually prefer thinking about it in terms of agency in the dream, which is to say that you have some awareness, some consciousness to be able to make some choices in your dream. And I have been working with mugwort in my awake time lately, like over the past, I don’t know, maybe nine months. And I don’t have a good explanation for this part yet, but I do feel it very strongly. And I feel like it’s an important thing to share that there is also an increase of agency when you’re awake as well with mugwort. Or in other words, this is a way that mugwort can help you, not only when you’re dreaming and definitely when you are dreaming, but also this sort of increased agency, increased ability to make some decisions for yourself, increased awareness of what is going on and how you are going to respond to it possibly differently than you have done in the past. That is a place where mugwort has been really helpful for me through, through this almost year now. And I didn’t intentionally set out to discover that thing. But over this year that has been becoming very, very obvious to me. So this is a way in which I am becoming more intentional in my exploration of mugwort, both in my experience, but now like moving outward towards other people’s experiences. So, even though this is not yet something that I’m ready to kind of like lock down, whatever. It is something that I want to share, because I have been working in this way for awhile now. And so I think that it’s particularly helpful in the realm of dealing with grief and dealing with change. So I want to share that.

Ryn (01:04:57):
Yeah. I mean mugwort has these strong associations with the moon and the moon changes all the time. We can see it, right? The moon goes through a dark phase every single month. And you know mugwort has a strong connection to the moon. We can learn moony ways by working with this plant. And just allow ourselves to pass into darkness sometimes and know that we’re going to come back into the light again. Yeah. Another herb I think about with connections to dreaming and to this kind of emotional processing work is a plant called bitter grass. A lot of folks refer to it as Aztec dream herb. The Latin is Calea zacatechichi. But the indigenous term there, the zacatechichi, that means bitter grass. So when I refer to that plant I just translate it into English and call it that way. So this plant, it’s another herb that affects dreaming, but quite differently from the way that mugwort does. The effects of bitter grass are most notable or most noticeable in the time where you’re transitioning from being awake to dreaming. So this is referred to as the hypnagogic state or the hypnagogic transition. And that is an in-between period. It’s a liminal space. When you work with bitter grass, either when you go into dreaming or I’ve also done this in a flotation tank. So there’s a spot in Boston where you can go and get into a closed flotation tank and it’s completely dark inside. And the water temperature is about the temperature of your skin. So, and it’s really salty, right? So it’s like the dead sea in there. So you float pretty high in the water.

Ryn (01:06:48):
And the idea is you can go inside and lay back in the water and float easily. And as you stay there for a while and be still, you start to be able to feel the line between the water and the air much less. And so it’s almost as if you’re floating in emptiness. So I’ve brought bitter grass into that experience with me a few times and found the same kind of experience happening there as you get when you’re laying down to go to sleep. So it’s, like I said, a liminal space, a place between, and that can be a really powerful place to do this kind of processing work, because you’re not so stuck in your day and your habits in normality, in reality, you know, in things as they are. And so that can help you to do work that connects you to things that weren’t, or that could have been or that might be. So I feel like it moves you into a place that’s really potent and enables a lot of transformation to occur. Yeah. One other that I’ll just mention briefly here is bittersweet night shade. And right there in the name is something really important. It’s in the name, it’s also in the flavor of the plant. The combination of bitterness and sweetness is something that I think is really important about that particular plant. Bittersweet nightshade But a sweet night shade is an herb that not too many herbalists are working with for physiological purposes, or really any purposes in my experience.

Katja (01:08:22):
It has a traditional application, especially topically, in cases of eczema and stuff like that. But yeah, this is a plant that you particularly love. And this was not even a plant that I knew until you really got into it.

Ryn (01:08:43):
And I got one. Yeah. It’s one of those plants that has this connection – this is also, I think, interesting – a connection between your liver and your skin. So, think about that as like an inward part of yourself where there’s a lot of processing and transformation going on in the liver. Detoxification is the way we often speak about that. And then there’s a reflection of that on your surface, on your most outward presentation. So, yeah, I think I don’t need to beat the metaphors to death there, but when I think about bittersweet nightshade, I think about all of those things together, right? Tasting bitterness and sweetness at the same time, having some internal transformation and seeing the effects of that in our outward face. There’s also some tradition of working with bittersweet nightshade in more spiritual or emotional contexts for work between the worlds. So again, I think about that similarly to the kind of hypnagogia with bitter grass or the dreaming work we do with mugwort. And sometimes, especially around Halloween, you may want to speak to some spirits. You may want to speak to some departed people. And you can mean that in whatever way that works for you. It can be very rationalist. Well, okay. I can have mental conversations with people who are gone and try to remember them.

Katja (01:09:58):
I can access my memories.

Ryn (01:09:59):
Yeah. Right.

Katja (01:09:59):
And you know, like yeah.

Ryn (01:10:01):
Or you could mean it in a much more nope, I literally mean talk to the spirits.

Katja (01:10:06):
Yeah. It’s great, because the plants are not going to judge you based on what your ideas are. They’re just going to help you do what you gotta do. And you can get that done with many different perspectives on the work.

Ryn (01:10:24):
Ooh. So that can be some kind of dark work, shadow work, you know. Really powerful, but very necessary. So before we close on that note, I would like to say that it can be helpful to have something to help you transition back out of that work. Once you’ve kind of done it and then close the space and close the circle and done all of that kind of thing. And this is a place where I would want to reach for vanilla. I’ve been thinking about vanilla a lot the last week.

Katja (01:10:52):
Yes, it has so been on your mind.

Ryn (01:10:56):
But vanilla is just such an uplifting, exuberant plant. It really, it lifts your heart. It lifts your mood. And smells nice, tastes good. You know, you may choose to deliver your vanilla in the form of some brownies. That’s not illegitimate.

Katja (01:11:14):
Yeah. It can be cake, it can be, you know, whatever form your vanilla comes in, that’s okay. But you can just tincture vanilla and work with it that way.

Ryn (01:11:23):
Yeah. And the smell of it.

Katja (01:11:25):
You know, speaking of that, where this is work that doesn’t happen overnight and that pops up in many forms. It’s worth thinking about how are we going to work with the herbs for this. And so, I feel pretty strongly about tea. Always. Y’all probably know that by now. I always feel strongly about tea and it is strongly positive.

Ryn (01:11:49):
You can’t tell, but there’s actually four different teacups of hers in this room right now.

Katja (01:11:53):
Yeah, that’s true. They all have stuff in them, and I am drinking all of it actively. Yes. Okay. Anyway I feel strongly about tea and tea is going to be a really excellent way to incorporate herbs in this long-term work, in the acknowledgement that this does not happen overnight, in the long-term building of stamina to do the work of breathing into the change, of all those kinds of things to use a really excellent method to deliver those herbs.

Ryn (01:12:35):
Because it’s going to be with you every day.

Katja (01:12:37):
Yeah. It should be with you every day. Make sure that it’s with you every day. But then also this is a place where I feel really strongly about elixirs. Not just tinctures, but outright elixirs actually. So an elixir is a tincture with a sweet thing added to it. In our world that is honey, and honey that is infused with plants. So the idea here is that you have it with you. You can carry it with you because sometimes grief jumps out from behind whatever. And you’re like, ah, and then you’re like, oh no. And you need to reach for something very quickly. And sometimes vulnerability does that. And sometimes fear it does that, and anger, you know, whatever. Any of our emotions can, but especially when we’re working around things that incorporate grief, that incorporate hurt and pain. That can pop up even when we think we’re okay. So, it’s important to have something with you all the time. Just an acknowledgement that, oh yeah. This stuff pops up sometimes unexpected. And the idea of having it be an elixir is even though I am…

Ryn (01:13:52):
This whole pod we’ve been talking about, like, you’ve got to have bitter in your life. You’ve got to like, got to face the tough stuff.

Katja (01:14:00):
Yeah, and how dare we cover over Halloween with candy and like, whatever. Okay. But actually a little bit of sweet does help it. It just helps soothe you through it, you know. So in the acknowledgement that we are facing this bitter work, it is not wrong to bring some sweetness into that to sustain you as you do the work. And so, you know, any of these herbs could be made into a lovely elixir. And if there are herbs in this list that you want to work on and you’re thinking what part would be the sweet part. It is almost always easy to get rose glycerite or to infuse rose petals in honey, which is what I prefer. I’m not a huge fan of glycerites, but rose glycerite…

Ryn (01:14:50):
It’s widely available.

Katja (01:14:50):
It’s pretty effective and it’s widely available. So if you were going to make a blend of tincture of some of these plants to support you. And you were like, well, I don’t have any herb infused honey right now. What am I going to do to put some sweetness into this? Then you could bring in some rose glycerite, because all of us could use a little place of protection while we’re doing this work. So the rose is sort of very widely applicable, also very delicious. And that can bring the sweetness in. But you can infuse any of these herbs into honey. In order to infuse it into honey, you have to have fresh herbs. It won’t work with dried herbs. It works only with fresh herb, because the way that the extraction is happening in the honey is that it is literally sucking all the fluid out of the plant matter that you’re putting in. And dry plant matter doesn’t have any fluid in it for the honey to suck out. So, in this case we want to work with fresh plant. But any of these that you have fresh, you can pop it into honey and and then let that be the sweet part of your elixir.

Ryn (01:16:00):
Yeah. All right. Well, that was a journey of transformation. So thanks for being there with us. I think that’s it for this week. So we’ll be back next week with some more Holistic Herbalism podcasts for you.

Katja (01:16:16):
Maybe something a little lighter.

Ryn (01:16:16):
Yeah. Could be, we’ll see, yeah. And so until then, take care of yourselves, take care of each other and drink some tea.

Katja (01:16:24):
Drink some tea, have some elixir, do what you gotta do.

Ryn (01:16:44):
Take care.


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