Podcast 176: Herbs A-Z: Arctostaphylos uva-ursi & Artemisia vulgaris

Here we go with some more of the herbs on our apothecary shelves! This week our spotlight is on uva ursi & mugwort.

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, known as bearberry, uva ursi, or kinnikinnick, is a very astringent herb. It can knit wounds together, combat infections, and squeeze stuck fluids out of tissues. When we drink it it has a lot of action on the urinary system – it’s famous for UTI – but it also helps with other stagnation & laxity conditions in the pelvic region.

Our final Artemisia species (for now anyway!) is A. vulgaris, mugwort. This herb is fantastic for a host of troubles. Today we focused on “not the dreaming stuff, and not the emmenagogue stuff” because those are covered extensively in most discussions of mugwort. Instead we spent more time discussing this herb as a stimulating relaxant, as a mood lifter, and as an herb that can sharpen the mind and cut through mental fog.

Mentioned in this episode:

These quick plant profiles were done off-the-cuff & on-the-spot. If you enjoyed them, we have more! Our organized & comprehensive presentation of our herbal allies is in the Holistic Herbalism Materia Medica course. We have detailed profiles of 90 medicinal herbs! Plus you get everything that comes with enrollment in our courses: twice-weekly live Q&A sessions, lifetime access to current & future course material, discussion threads integrated in each lesson, guides & quizzes, and more.

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Our theme music is “Wings” by Nicolai Heidlas.

This episode was sponsored by Mountain Rose Herbs. We thank them for their support!


Episode Transcript

Katja (00:01):
Hi, I’m Katja.

Ryn (00:15):
And I’m Ryn.

Katja (00:15):
And we’re here at Commonwealth Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.

Ryn (00:19):
And on the internet everywhere, thanks to the power podcast. Okay. So, we’re going to continue our series about the herbs that are currently on our apothecary shelves.

Katja (00:30):
I have to say that I had to put a note on the shelves, because I realized that pine is never on the shelf. It’s always on the tree. And we just get what we need when we need it. And so I just want y’all to know, I inserted a note alphabetically so that when we get to the P’s, we don’t forget to talk about pine.

Ryn (00:53):
Yeah. But that’s a little way off, because we’re still in A And that’s a good place to be, because there are lots of cool herbs in A.

Katja (01:03):
Today’s herbs are particularly cool. And I’m very excited about them.

Ryn (01:07):
Yeah. Today we’re going to be talking about mugwort, finally, if you’ve been waiting for the past few episodes. And we’re going to talk about uva ursi.

Katja (01:16):
And if you’re thinking those don’t start with A, it’s A in the Latin name. We have all of our herbs arranged on our shelves in alphabetical order by Latin name. So it’s Artemisia vulgaris and Arctostaphylos uva ursi.

Ryn (01:32):
Yeah, but before we jump in, let’s just remind you that we are not doctors. We are herbalists and holistic health educators.

Katja (01:40):
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.

Ryn (01:52):
We want to remind you that good health doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone. Good health doesn’t exist as an objective standard. It’s influenced by your individual needs, experiences, and goals. So, we’re not trying to present one dogmatic right way that you should adhere to.

Katja (02:06):
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 ideas to research further.

Ryn (02:18):
Finding your way to better health is both your right and your own personal responsibility. This doesn’t mean you’re alone on the journey. But it does mean that the final decision when considering any course of action, whether it’s discussed on the internet or prescribed by a physician, is always yours to make.

Katja (02:33):
And you know, also before we jump in we want to thank Mountain Rose Herbs for sponsoring this episode of our podcast. You know, the last couple times we’ve been talking about things that Mountain Rose Herbs offers besides just bulk herbs. Because I think so many herbalists, that’s their relationship with Mountain Rose Herbs is oh, I’m out of chamomile. I need to order some more fennel seed, you know, like whatever. But today I wanted to talk about their essential oils, and especially their hydrosols. They have a whole line of their own essential oils and their own hydrosols. And lately that was very important for me, because my eyes have been super irritated and really dry, partially because of looking at the screen, and partially because my glasses prescription changed. And it took me a little while to figure that out. So, you know, these are things that strain the eyes, right? So, they’ve been hurting, and they’ve been dry. And I was thinking oh wow. I really wish I had some chamomile hydrosol, because that would feel so good on my eyes. And I really, really wanted it, but I didn’t make any this year. So, I was like I can’t have it. Like I’m not going to be able to buy chamomile hydrosol. And so I was just sort of dreaming about how awesome that would feel, and expecting that I was not going to be able to do that. Because I just didn’t think anybody would have it. And then, lo and behold, I was like I’ll just see if Mountain Rose Herbs has it. And they do. So, I ordered some, and I’m super excited about it. It feels so good. Just as good as I thought that it would. It’s really, really soothing and wonderful.

Ryn (04:25):
Now this is not to be sprayed directly onto your open eyes.

Katja (04:28):
Yes. That’s right. Yeah. I don’t do that. I just close my eyes gently, and then I spray it on my face right across my eyes. And then I just let it dry on my face. Like I don’t wipe it off or anything. I spray it with a fine mist. So, okay. For a few minutes I have some drops of chamomile hydrosol on my face, but that’s fine. So, I just let it dry. And it soaks in through the skin, through the eyelids. But I don’t spray it right directly into my eyes with my eyes open. That would probably be weird.

Ryn (05:00):
Yeah. I might feel a little unpleasant. But I mean so many of us are putting extra strain on our eyes lately with all these extra zoom meetings and, you know, whatever. So hey, maybe your eyes would like some chamomile hydrosol too.

Katja (05:13):
Yes. Well, if so, or if you want some other kind of hydrosol even just to make your house smell nice. You know, there’s so many things to make some lotions with, to whatever. You can find them and lots of other goodies at mountainroseherbs.com.

Ryn (05:31):
All right. Let’s talk about uva ursi.

Katja (05:35):
Yes. Uva ursi: Arctostaphylos uva-ursi. Arcto there is about bears, and…

Ryn (05:41):
Ursi also.

Katja (05:46):
Ursi also. And that always reminds me about…

Ryn (05:51):
The Arctic and the Antarctic.

Katja (05:52):
Yes. The Arctic and the Antarctic. Because when we think about Antarctica, it means there are no bears here. And the Arctic means there’s bears here. And like, I don’t think…

Ryn (06:06):
Yeah, the Arctic is the bears place.

Katja (06:07):
Yeah. Right. And Antarctica is the no bears place. Just penguins, no bears. Anyway, I just crack up about that every single time I think about it. And uva ursi gives me an extra opportunity to crack up about that. So, I never want to pass that by. These are dark times. You got to not let any chance to crack yourself up pass you by. You’ve just got to grab every single one of them.

Uva Ursi: Arctostaphylos uva-ursi & Its Properties

Ryn (06:36):
Yeah, that seems fair. That seems fair, for sure. You know, okay. So uva ursi, what does everybody say about uva ursi? It’s great for urinary tract infections. Take a few squirts of tincture. Drink some tea. It will… Maybe they don’t all say this part, but part of what happens is that there’s a compound in uva ursi that gets kind of metabolized as it reaches the kidneys. And it turns into a fairly active antimicrobial substance right in that moment. So, the nice thing is that you’re not kind of using up an antimicrobial power before it gets to the urinary system. And so it’s very targeted in the delivery of that effect right there. Now uva ursi has other things that it can do for us. And both when we drink it or take tincture, but also when we apply that to the body in a topical way.

Katja (07:27):
You know, I think that the, the most prominent feature of uva ursi when you taste it is the astringency. And I really recommend like just taste your herbs individually. You know, a lot of people when they drink tea, they drink blends, and that’s fantastic. But it’s also important to take some time to taste your plants individually, so that you really know their flavors. And also so that you feel what’s going on in your mouth. And when you drink uva ursi tea, it is just so clear. The astringency, it’s very, very apparent. And for some people like me, that’s going to be very pleasant. And for some people who run dry…

Ryn (08:15):
Like me.

Katja (08:15):
That’s not going to be very pleasant. So it’s, you know, very constitutionally oriented here. But that astringency does not wait until it gets to your kidneys to exert its action. It is going to start right from the beginning. And that means uva ursi does have a lot of pelvic area affinity. So, there’s a lot we can do with that astringency very similar in the way that we would work with lady’s mantle from a couple episodes ago. But you don’t have to wait for the pelvic floor for that astringency to get going. And so anywhere that you need something astringent, whether that is in the mouth, because maybe you’ve got some irritation in your gums, or maybe you have a tendency towards receding gums or just general like kind of sponginess in the gums, and maybe your teeth wiggle once in a while.

Ryn (09:16):
Yeah. But even all the way up to an abscess, you know, an open wound inside the mouth, slow to heal, painful, irritated, you know, all of that. But that is the kind of thing that uva ursi, with it’s astringency and it’s antimicrobial power can be really, really helpful getting back under control.

Katja (09:35):
You know, it has tannin content. And tannins are this constituent that I feel like we still don’t fully understand tannins. And I think part of the reason is that a lot of like modern inquiry kind of basically says oh, tannins. That’s the astringent part, move along. And you know, nothing to see here. And I don’t think that’s just it. I think there’s so much more going on with the tannins. And I think it’s such a rich area for study. If we look back throughout really all of history, tannin content was really prized even before they could talk about it in that manner. Although of all of the phytochemicals, tannins were one of the very early discoveries, because they were functional.

Ryn (10:34):
Right. Yeah. I mean the word tannin, it does refer to tanning – not like your skin, but like leather – which is a process that does require tannins or some other powerful astringent activity in order to get the leather to the texture, the feel of it that we’re looking for, and to preserve it over the long run. So yeah, so tannins with that palpable astringency, with that capacity to knit tissue together, they’re also in their own right antimicrobial. They can disrupt the lives of microbes.

Katja (11:12):
And you don’t have to wait for the kidneys for that part of the antimicrobial action to happen. The tannins are antimicrobial on their own. They don’t require any further conversion.

Ryn (11:21):
Right. Yeah. I didn’t really mean to imply that uva ursi is not antimicrobial until it’s been processed by the kidney. There’s one compound in it. It’s called arbutin. And it’s the most famous element in uva ursi. And it seems to be the one that’s responsible for a lot of that urinary system antimicrobial effect. But it’s not the only thing in the herb that can do that job. In fact, uva ursi is one of the better herbs we have for disrupting biofilms. So, remember a biofilm is where you have a number of microorganisms that are cooperating. It could be two species of bacteria. It could be a bacteria and fungus hanging out together and doing their thing.

Katja (12:00):
It can be multiple species of things.

Ryn (12:03):
Right. Like making layers and sharing metabolic jobs and stuff.

Katja (12:07):
Right. Like a couple of different bacteria and then like a fungus, and then whatever. Things that are alive in community.

Ryn (12:15):
Yeah. So biofilms are difficult to attack, either for your immune system or for antimicrobial agents, whether those are herbal or pharmaceutical for that matter. So, plants that can break up a biofilm are really, really helpful, because they can make your antimicrobial agents much more effective.

Katja (12:37):
Biofilms are like every time you see a bumper sticker that says stronger together, that’s a biofilm, right? Because it’s true.

Ryn (12:49):
Let us be biofilms for justice.

Katja (12:50):
Yes. Because you can’t…This idea, and I don’t know if it is uniquely American or like United States-ian, but it certainly is a core part of our culture. That rugged individualism. I’m going to do everything on my own. I’m going to make it alone. Like that’s a farce. Humans can’t survive by themselves. We require community. And so stronger together isn’t just like a nice idea. It is a – I don’t know – I don’t want to say a natural law. But we see so many examples of it in every part of nature. It’s not just humans. Everybody is stronger together, and in diversity, right? Like it is the opposite of monocropping. It is the opposite of… whatever. Anyway. Biofilms, they are proving that we need one another. And we need communities, strong communities, diverse communities. And I’m done. Uva ursi.

Ryn (13:59):
Right, right. Okay.

Tonifying Tissues, Working Topically, & Smoking

Katja (14:04):
Oh, so we were talking about uva ursi in the mouth. And one thing that we left out – or we didn’t leave it out, we just didn’t get to it yet – was braces. You know, when we first started filming our programs to put them online, when we were shifting from only teaching in person to start to put things online, I had braces. And it was fine, but I was very self-conscious of it. Because when you have braces you’re like my mouth looks funny. But I have to say that was a really fantastic learning experience, because I had not had braces when I was young. So. I hadn’t been through that experience before. And boy do they shred the inside of your mouth. And uva ursi really helps with that too. Now, if you’re a super dry person that might not be the most comfortable thing. But you don’t have to swallow it if you just hold it in your mouth for a little while, and then spit it back out again. So, if you’re a person who runs dry. And you’re like I just can’t drink quarts of uva ursi every day, no problem. You don’t need to. You can use it as a mouthwash. You can just sort of hold it in your mouth and then spit it out, whatever. It does have a pleasant flavor. It tastes kind of like black tea. But it’s just uncomfortable for lots of people to drink over, you know, every day. And even for somebody for whom it is comfortable, like somebody with a constitution like mine, every day but not forever. Like everyday for a couple of weeks, because it really is a kidney stimulant. And you want to take a little break from that. So, you know, have it for a week. Have it for two. Then take a break. Drink something else for a while, and then you can have it again.

Ryn (15:58):
And for a while you were alternating between uva ursi and meadowsweet, sometimes elderflower

Katja (16:05):
And goldenrod. Yeah. Those were the big ones. Oh, well, and chamomile of course. Now, if you are formulating with ursi, like if we had taken all of those and put them together in a formula, that’s going to be less intense for the kidneys. So, that would have less of a I need to take a break after a couple of weeks kind of situation. But since braces are, you know, a longer-term project. And you’re going to want something you can have to be soothing on a long-term basis, uva ursi is a great candidate there, but just that you switch it up.

Ryn (16:44):

Katja (16:46):
Well, uva ursi is also is going to have very similar effects throughout the whole rest of the digestive tract.

Ryn (16:53):
Yeah, absolutely tonifying in nature and astringing to tissue. Tightening things up, drying them out. We can call on that for the same kind of problem just occurring other places in the tube, right? So, if you have a stomach ulcer, that’s really similar to an abscess in the gums. If you have ulcerative colitis, then down in the colon there’s an ulcer, and it’s a really similar situation. So what you have, there is an injury and an infection happening together, right? So, uva ursi helps to fight the infection, and it helps to get the tissue back and heal the injury. So, it’s a very potent herb for these kinds of problems.

Katja (17:37):
You know, uva ursi is even going to be helpful if there is leaky gut. If there’s diarrhea, that that is going to be a way that you can tighten things back up again. And that actually could be very nice in cases of diarrhea. Just maybe one cup, you know, drink it slowly. And that might be enough, because it is pretty astringent. And if not, have two cups. That’s also fine. But it could be a really nice way. We often turn to blackberry root in that regard, but it’s not like blackberry root is the only way to astringe the intestines when you need that kind of action. Any of our stronger astringents are going to be nice in that way. And uva ursi really would work beautifully.

Ryn (18:34):
Yeah. And we can work with the topically as well. You know, if you have a wound and maybe it didn’t get cared for in the immediate moments. And it’s a couple of days later and now hmm, that wound is looking a little swollen. There are some fluid discharges happening. Then uva ursi would be a fantastic one to apply topically. We can make a compress. You can do poultices. These are the ways that we tend to prefer to work with uva ursi.

Katja (19:00):
Yeah. Poultice is going to be a little uncomfortable, because the leaves are a little on the thick side and kind of leathery. So, even when you dry them, they are kind of a little tougher. If you want to do a poultice, you will probably appreciate a decoction or a longer infusion, so that you really have enough time to soften up the leaves. Just so you don’t have any like little prickly parts on some irritated item. And if you are doing it on a wound, then a nice layer of cheesecloth just to kind of contain everything will also be really nice. That way you don’t get little bits in the cut itself.

Ryn (19:40):
If you had some unbroken, but infected skin, I suppose you could put uva ursi tincture right on there. That would be okay as well.

Katja (19:48):
Yeah. It could also be nice if you have a varicose vein and you want to provide some topical support for the varicose vein. Then you could incorporate some uva ursi into a nice lotion. Or you can make a liniment, and have uva ursi as the astringent action. And then some kind of soothing thing, maybe calendula infused oil, so that you’re not drying the area out with alcohol and astringency over time.

Ryn (20:19):
Yeah. You know, if you had hemorrhoids you can do a sitz bath. You can make some strong uva ursi tea, and then sit into that. And that will really help to astringe and tonify those veins. Hemorrhoids are basically a vein that has been blocked or been stuck, and now it’s swelling and possibly even bleeding. But we need to tighten up that tissue. We need to squeeze it down.

Katja (20:41):
It’s going to be lovely as a sitz bath postpartum also. So if you or someone you know has had a baby recently, then that could be very soothing and lovely. Yeah. Oh, there was one… oh, poison Ivy. I was like there was something else I really wanted to talk about topically. Poison Ivy, or any kind of rash, is going to really benefit from uva ursi. And again, just make a really strong infusion. Make a compress with it, and do it many times a day. This isn’t like I did it once and why didn’t my poison Ivy go away. This is do it four or five times a day. But it can be really, really effective, really soothing.

Ryn (21:27):
Yeah. Well, you know, aside from internal and topical applications like those, there’s one other way that I work with uva ursi sometimes, which is in a smoke blend. And this is a classic way to work with the herb. Sometimes folks will use the name Kinnikinnick for uva ursi. And that is a Native American language name that refers to not just this single plant, but also herbs taken as a smoke mixture. And that is a really nice way to take it actually. You know, astringent herbs like this one, they – how to say – they change the flavor and the feeling of the smoke in a way that makes it feel a little more robust. So, you don’t want only this herb all by itself. That’d be kind of too heavy. But a little pinch of that mixed into some mugwort leaf or some damiana, something like that can be really quite nice. Yeah.

Mugwort: Artemisia vulgaris & Its Seemingly Contradictory Properties

Katja (22:25):
Well you know, let’s talk about mugwort to go along with it. Honestly, these two by themselves would make a lovely blend. It would be really very delicious. You would have all of the aromatics of the mugwort. And mugwort has bitterness, but it’s very gentle. It’s a very lovely bitter actually. You know, it’s a really pleasant bitter. And then having the sort of black tea kind of feel of the uva ursi really rounds out the flavors. So, that is just…it’ll be delicious is what I’m trying to tell you.

Ryn (23:09):
Yeah. You often like to have a little bit of a stringency together with some bitter in a tea blend.

Katja (23:14):
I do, which is funny because a lot of people say that if you leave black tea too long, it’s bitter. And really usually what they’re talking about is the astringency, the tannins. But in terms of mugwort, it really is an actual bitter. And I think that the tannin content in uva ursi does balance that really in a nice way.

Ryn (23:38):
Yeah. Well, you know, today with mugwort, we’re going to do the not dreaming stuff. Because almost every time I end up talking about this herb, that’s what I get most excited about and most drawn to. But it’s extensively covered both on our blog, on Commonwealthherbs.com. If you just type mugwort dreaming, then you’ll get my article all about that. And we also have an entire course about herbs for dreaming. So, I’ll put a link to that in the show notes. And that covers mugwort in a lot of detail. Yeah. But the herb does a lot of other things.

Katja (24:14):
Right. I think it often gets put in that dreaming box.

Ryn (24:18):
Yeah. Well, it’s that, and then it’s the emmenagogue effect, right? Which is also nice and reliable and wonderful and everything. But also, you know, pretty extensively covered every time people talk about mugwort.

Katja (24:34):

Ryn (24:35):
But the herb is many things, right? It’s a stomachic herbs. That means that it can strengthen the stomach. That’s connected to that bitter effect. It’s a cholagogue herb, again from that bitter activity. It has some antispasmodic qualities to it, but it also has some stimulating qualities to it. It’s one of the herbs we’d call a stimulating relaxant.

Katja (24:54):
Yeah. Kind of put it in the same category as peppermint there.

Ryn (24:58):
It’s a nervine. It’s many things, right? Let’s talk about that stimulating relaxant effect in a little more detail though. So this, it sounds like a contradiction if it’s the first time you’ve heard it. But that’s because we tend to think of stimulants as something that wakes you up and relaxants as something that moves you towards sleep. And in herbalism, what we would say is really like a stimulant is going to increase activity. That could be metabolism, that could be blood movement, or just the presence of blood in an area. But it’s about activity level, right? And then the opposite of that would be a sedative. Something that slows down activity like nerve firing rates, or how vigorously the stomach is working on your meal or something like that. So, that would be the polarity there. Stimulant on one side, sedative on the other. For relaxant, the effect there, yeah, it does mean to release tension, to let things go and to flow easily. But the opposite of that wouldn’t be stimulant. It would be tonic or tonifying agent. So, an herb can be a stimulating relaxant, because it can both activate and encourage movement and activity in the cellular or the tissue level, and also to relax tension in those areas.

Katja (26:23):
If you think about it in terms of something like ginger, for example – which is quite simulating and also has relaxant action – you can think of it in its capacity as a circulatory stimulant. It just wouldn’t work if it was stimulating, and that also meant tightening. Like in order to create movement in the circulatory system, in order for blood to flow, you have to release tension. Otherwise everything is really clamped down, right? So, I kind of feel like that type of action can help you understand this seeming contradiction in terms.

Ryn (27:09):
Yeah. And mugwort, you know, it’s having this stimulating relaxant effect on the digestive system. It can increase digestive activity. The bitter flavor again is going to be responsible for a large part of that to get your juices flowing. But it’s also going to relax tension there. So, maybe you have kind of a cold, tense, digestive pattern where you eat things, and your guts feel kind of crampy. And it’s kind of slow to move through, and it takes a long time to digest anything. Or maybe you don’t digest it very well or very thoroughly. Then mugwort can be extremely helpful there to increase the amount of digestive processing you actually accomplish, and also to release those tensions and like take away that gut cramp feeling for you.

Katja (27:58):
You know, and the bitterness in mugwort is doing a lot of that stimulation. But the aromaticity… Is that even a word? Have we established that?

Ryn (28:06):
Oh, for sure, absolutely.

Katja (28:08):
Okay, good. The aromaticity of the plant is also doing this work, because bitter things are typically cooling. But when we add in that aromatic action, aromatic things are typically warming. There are some exceptions on both sides of this. But so if it was just the bitter all on its own with mugwort, well, then it would be wormwood, and it would absolutely be cooling. But because of that aromatic action, we end up with a net warming effect.

Ryn (28:41):
It’s kind of a mixed presentation.

Katja (28:43):
Yeah. So, you get the bitter encouragement in the guts, and that warming action, that sort of dispelling action. And it’s just sort of like a very complete package.

Ryn (28:56):
Yeah, for sure. You get that activity on the liver as well, right? That stimulation to do more work, to create more bile and get it flowing and everything. But mugwort is one of our herbs we can call on when there’s hepatic tension. And you might say, how do I know if my liver is tense? Sometimes you can actually feel it. Like if twisting movements are very difficult or feel constrained or generate pain in the right side of your body, a little just under the rib cage and below. Or if you try to like reach into that spot, kind of like reach under the ribs on the right side of your body and push around, you might feel like the tissue is actually hard or resistant under there. But there can also be evidence for this in like the flow of blood in the body. When the liver gets tense, it tends to yield a like restricted blood flow in the trunk. Maybe some heat up in the head, but the hands and feet would be more of a cold pattern at that point. So, when that occurs we don’t want to just throw more stimulants at the liver. We want something that can release that tension and allow it to work, but to flow, to let things move very well. So, rosemary can be helpful there. Lavender’ is a good help there. But mugwort is also a good hepatic relaxant. Yeah. And you know, these effects on digestive organs can cascade out and reach other parts of the body. Mugwort in particular is going to travel through really the entire nervous system. And so if your nerves are in one of those kind of cold tense states, depleted, slow activity, lots of construction, maybe even shaking patterns, mugwort can be a good one to experiment with there as well.

Helping with Headaches & Mood

Katja (30:51):
You know, I’ve been drinking so much mugwort lately, and also I’ve been having headaches lately. And mugwort has been going into every single blend. And it’s super, super helpful for me in my particular kind of headache pattern.

Ryn (31:09):
Headaches differ from each other a lot in some cases. So, don’t just hear Katja say this herb is good for headaches. Listen to her describe the pattern, the type of headache she’s experiencing and finding success with mugwort for.

Katja (31:23):
Right, because that really does matter in terms of which herb you’re going to match up to your headache. So, in this case when I lately have been getting headaches, there has been a very strong tension component, which to be honest is actually a little unusual for me. I’m not usually a skullcap kind of person, you know, the tension in between the shoulder blades. And lately that has been a thing for me. So, yes, skullcap has also found its way into these blends. But honestly, skullcap is not the only herb that will release tension right there at the base of the neck. Mugwort has been really helpful for me in that way as well. A lot of upper body tension, which again, that is not my actual typical pattern. But that’s been happening lately. And then that all corresponds with my actual typical pattern, which is some liver stagnation, some gut stagnation, some like general pelvic stagnation. Which maybe you don’t notice that on a daily basis, but certainly when I’m menstruating I see that. And so those kinds of stagnation patterns, and then plus lately this bonus upper body tension. And then in the head itself, my headaches tend to be very dull and diffuse. Like it’s not like there’s an ice pick in one location, just stabbing at me. Sometimes a headache is like that. For me the headache is more like a cloud of throbbing discomfort. And by throbbing also, like low slow base kind of throbbing, not like some fast dance music kind.

Ryn (33:25):
Yeah. Down low tempo,

Katja (33:27):
Right? Yes, exactly. Exactly. So, when all those things combine into a headache, then that is mugwort time. And, you know, the tangent here is when you are experiencing headaches and you’re trying to match herbs up for your headache, it’s really great if you can get as descriptive as possible about your headache, because it’s going to help you choose herbs more successfully.

Ryn (33:52):
Yeah. I don’t tend to really get headaches very often. But I do find myself reaching for mugwort for certain kind of like nervous or emotional patterns. There are days when I’m like okay, I need to make some mood lifting tea. And for me that’s usually going to start with some St. John’s wort, some tulsi. If there are fresh dandelions I might go grab a couple of those, that kind of thing. But sometimes I’m like today I need mugwort. It’s sometimes like… oh, catnip is the other one that almost always makes it into these formulas for me personally. But sometimes it’s like catnip, yes. Mugwort, extra yes. Like I need to get that effect into there.

Katja (34:37):
Yes, it’s when the headache makes it so that you can’t think. And honestly, I don’t think you don’t get headaches. It’s just that in your body, all of your upper body expressions show up in your gut. When you get a respiratory infection, it’s in your guts. Like all that stuff. And so I think that for you the headache, it happens in your guts, just like all the other upper body stuff. And so, but all those other… like the throbbing-ness of it or the makes it hard to focus-ness of it, that’s still there. It’s just that the actual pain is happening lower down. It’s like your body just really knows how to have pain in the middle part.

Ryn (35:26):
It’s all getting referred down there. Okay.

Katja (35:29):
Your body’s like hey, something hurts. It must be my belly. Yeah. I mean I think that’s pretty common too. You know, for me for so long it has been something hurts. It must be my back. It must be… oh, and it must be bad. And I must be in danger.

Ryn (35:46):
Some big trouble, yeah.

Katja (35:47):
Yeah, I must be in big trouble. And now I’m finally getting to a place where it’s like, something hurts. It doesn’t have anything to do with my back. And I’m not in big trouble. I just need some tea, you know? And that’s pretty exciting. Pain is fascinating. And retraining your body around pain… well, okay. That work itself is a pain in the…

Ryn (36:08):
Pain in the wherever it hurts.

Katja (36:09):
Yeah. But it is fascinating on an abstract level.

Ryn (36:14):
I feel like the like inner pattern that I experience when it’s time that I’m going to really want mugwort does have to do with that kind of stagnation, that fogginess. And the mugwort kind of helps to cut through that and clear the mist of it.

Katja (36:30):
So, that actually is something that I’ve been doing some real specific work on, I would say over the past like year. And the reason that I did, the reason that I started this – maybe it’s even been two years – is because I was working on some stuff for the neurological and emotional health course. It certainly has been two years. I was working on some material for that course. I was reading a book called Behave by Robert Sapolsky. And it was about that same time that you were working on the dream course. And we were sort of lamenting that there was no really great data that explains the mechanism of action of mugwort and dreams. And then I was reading. And I read in Sapolsky about frontal lobe, like the frontal cortex and especially the prefrontal cortex stimulation during dreaming. And we had found a study about mugwort and some frontal lobe impact. And so kind of pulling those various sources together, looking at it all in one, and saying hold on a second. I actually think that there is some really important stimulation in the thinky parts going on here. And that is perhaps the mechanism of action of how mugwort is helping with dreaming. But if that is the case, that is in no way limited to sleep time.

Mugwort’s Effects on Sleep & the Thinky Parts

Ryn (38:18):
Right, yeah. The type of or what they call the stage of sleep that we’re in when we’re actively dreaming, those tend to be the lighter stages of sleep. And they may be classic REM sleep of course. But also in like the first stage or two of what they call slow wave sleep, there can still be experiences that occur in that time that we experience as dreams. But mugwort, it does seem to help to enhance the patterns of activity that we experience as dreaming. And I try to phrase it that way in particular, because any opportunity I can get to emphasize that sleep is not your brain turned off. Sleep is a particular pattern of brain activity or a number of different successive patterns that we move in and out of over the course of the night. And yeah, mugwort, it can help people sleep. It can help to consolidate sleep, or to help to maintain sleep for longer periods of time.

Katja (39:19):
Maybe we could even think about it in terms of kind of regulating those cycles of sleep. And of course the word regulate is always super loaded, but we can lightly stand next to that kind of idea.

Ryn (39:35):
Right. So, yeah. So, that’s a type of activity on nervous tissue in the body, right? It’s that aromatic movement that we experience with the herb in other aspects as well.

Katja (39:49):
So, all of that kind of thought process got me thinking, there’s just absolutely no way that this is only happening when we’re asleep. And so I wanted to see if mugwort had that same kind of stimulation in the day time, that same kind of stimulation of the thinky part and stimulating in a very cyclic kind of way. Not like I had caffeine and now I’m ready to do other things. Kind of like last week’s podcast when I was so excited. And I had had caffeine, and I think I talked really fast. Not that kind of stimulation. A much more rhythmic kind of stimulation. And so I started this kind of habit of drinking mugwort in the afternoon, and I love it. And it’s only been, I don’t know, I guess at this point it’s only been two years. I guess that’s kind of a long time. But I tend to do stuff for a long time before I really am going to offer that as something I teach as like solid. So, I’m not presenting this as solid yet. I’m still in the experimenting phase with this. But I’m thrilled with it. When it’s a day that my brain just doesn’t want to function. When I have a lot of brain fog, especially if that is because of too much abstract work, too much cerebral time. And I am going to do it again today and again tomorrow, whatever, the mugwort has been super helpful there. So, typically my sort of base in that regard is mugwort, often with juniper and orange peel, and often with pine. Now, often I also just have mugwort all by itself, because in order to really get data about this, I want to do it by itself. And juniper and pine both have some stimulating qualities. They definitely have uplifting qualities. So, they’re contributing to this effect as well. Sometimes I’ll also put angelica in there, which is also going to contribute to some extent. So, I want to acknowledge that when I make a blend like that, it’s not the mugwort all by itself doing the work. But even when I have mugwort all by itself, just totally straight up mugwort and nothing else in there, I still get that effect. So, sometimes it’s just more delicious to blend it. And when you make a blend like that – mugwort, juniper, orange peel, pine maybe – you really have a very kind of gin flavor profile. And that flavor profile appeals to me in all forms. It doesn’t have to be in gin. It could be cookies, it could be whatever. I just love that grouping of flavors. So, I offer that. I share it because it is, again, it’s a work in progress. It’s not something I think I would publish anywhere yet. It’s still something I’m working on. But I have this a couple of times a week or more. Sometimes I go through phases where I have it every day. Sometimes I think Ryn wants to pull his hair out, because it is yet another day of mugwort and juniper and orange peel. But I do really love it. And I really do think that we’re on to something here.

Ryn (43:16):
Yeah. It’s a tasty combo. I do like it.

Katja (43:21):
Well, you know, it’s just that I get into a rut with tea. And I’m pretty happy to be in that rut for a while. And when I break out of it I’m like can you please make the tea? I just can’t think of anything, and I want something different. But you’re much more creative, and you’ll make a totally different tea every day, and anyway.

Ryn (43:39):
Sometimes. Yeah.

Katja (43:43):
Well anyway, so the thinking here is if you are a person who could benefit from that sort of a thing with mugwort, try it. And I offer no guarantees here. But if you do try it, I would love to hear data back if you have some. If you feel like you’re feeling that in your body too, then please feel free to share. Because I’m really on about it right now. I’m really fascinated by it right now.

Ryn (44:14):
Cool. All right. Well, those are some quick thoughts on uva ursi and on mugwort. Thanks for listening this week and every week. We’ll be back next time with some more Holistic Herbalism podcast for you. Until then take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. Drink some tea.

Ryn (44:32):
Drink some tea.

Ryn (44:33):
Watch out for the bears and…

Katja (44:35):
Or the not bears.

Ryn (44:36):
Or the not bears. And make sure you’ve got some wort in your mug. Catch you later everybody..

Katja (44:42):
Bye bye.


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