Podcast 203: Herbs A-Z: Ocimum & Oenothera

Today’s herbs are two excellent friends to the human nervous & emotional systems. Tulsi and evening primrose are both nervines, and although they are rather different from one another, they fit together nicely.

Tulsi or ‘holy basil’, Ocimum sanctum aka O. tenuiflorum, has featured on our podcast many times previously: as a supportive herb for psychological first aid, sugar cravings, trauma recovery, and cognitive maintenance, among other things! It’s truly a multifaceted herb who can help many of us.

Evening primrose, Oenothera biennis, is an herb we find very helpful for ‘frazzled’ anxious feelings, whether those have arisen in response to stressors, in the process of quitting smoking, or simply as an extension of a dry, tense constitution. It’s not so easy to find for sale, but it’s very easy to grow your own!

We also have a few comments in this episode about a relative of evening primrose called Circaea lutetiana, the “enchanter’s nightshade”. This plant isn’t actually a nightshade, and its primary enchantments have to do with its leaf shapes and seed dispersal strategies, more than its actions or chemistry. If you want to learn a fun new word today, let us propose “zoochory” as a candidate!

Tulsi & evening primrose both make appearances in our Neurological & Emotional Health course. This course is 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. It includes a lengthy discussion of herbal pain management strategies, too! In addition, you receive everything that comes with enrollment in our courses, including: lifetime access to current & future course material, twice-weekly live Q&A sessions with us, open discussion threads integrated in each lesson, an active student community, study guides, quizzes & capstone assignments, and more!

Neuro Emo

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Our theme music is “Wings” by Nicolai Heidlas.


Episode Transcript

Katja (00:14):
Hi, I’m Katja.

Ryn (00:15):
And I’m Ryn.

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

Ryn (00:19):
And on the internet everywhere thanks to the power of the podcast. All right. Well, today we’re going to continue on with our series. This is us talking about the herbs in our home apothecary. The ones that are on the shelf, because there’s a bunch of others that are in the cabinets and things. So, today we have another fortunate pairing, I think. So, thanks alphabets, we appreciate you. Today you brought together Ocimum and Oenothera for us.

Katja (00:49):
That is tulsi, or some people prefer the name holy basil, and evening primrose. You know, as you were intro introducing that and saying we’re going to do this. And it’s the beginning of January. Well, it’s kind of the middle, I guess, of January 2023. So, you know, the podcast service that we use sent out statistics and all this stuff. And when we first had the idea to do herbs on the shelf, we were like oh yeah, that’ll be a great idea. That’ll be a couple of months. That’s fantastic. And actually there’s a lot of herbs on the shelf is what I’m trying to say.

Ryn (01:30):
It’s been going for a minute.

Katja (01:31):
Yeah, yeah.

Ryn (01:34):
And we’ve had this happen a bunch of times where, you know, it just happens that a couple of herbs that go nicely together or that have some unifying feature or application or whatever turn up in the same episode. And that’s going on today, you know? There’s going to be a lot of neurological and emotional health stuff in our discussion, I’m sure. And I want to also just add that these two herbs are really nice together. You know, tulsi tastes really good with evening primrose. They fit together. They make a lot of sense as a pair. So, yeah, it’s a nice bit of alignment going on here today.

Katja (02:05):
Yeah. I like it.

Ryn (02:07):
Before we get started though, we just want to make a reminder that if you like our podcast or if you enjoy this, then you’ll probably really enjoy our online courses as well. They’re taught primarily by video. And they’re designed for you to progress at your own pace but to have a lot of support as you go along, so you’re not just kind of out there on your own.

Katja (02:25):

Ryn (02:26):
And since you like podcasts, you should also know that we provide MP3 versions of every video lesson in the courses. And that means that you can take them with you wherever you go, even if you go somewhere where there isn’t cell service. That’s cool. Just promise us that you won’t spend too much time listening to us talk while you’re out there in the wilderness. Go listen to the wilderness, right?

Katja (02:46):
Yeah. That’s true. If you’re out having a walk in the woods, listen to the woods. They have things to tell you. But if you’re just like running around doing errands around town, then then probably listening to herbal studies is way more appealing than listening to cars honking and stuff like that. Safely. Safely. I mean, you know, because you’re driving.

Ryn (03:06):
Of course. And if you are a fan of the pod, and you want to support our podcast, the best way to do that is to go and buy yourself some of our courses. Yeah. You can find everything we have at online.commonwealthherbs.com.

Katja (03:21):

Ryn (03:22):
Yeah, okay. And then one last thing before we start, and you know what’s going on here. This is the reclaimer. This is where we remind you that we are not doctors. We are herbalist and holistic health educators.

Katja (03:31):
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 (03:44):
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, keep in mind that we’re not attempting to present a single dogmatic right way that you should adhere to.

Katja (04:00):
Everyone’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 new information to think about and some ideas to research further.

Ryn (04:10):
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. And it doesn’t mean that you’re to blame for your current state of health. But it does mean that the final decision when you’re considering any course of action, whether that was discussed on the internet or prescribed by a physician, that’s always your choice to make. Yeah. All right. So, let’s start. Let’s talk about tulsi.

Tulsi & Its Movement

Katja (04:33):
Yes. You know, normally this is the point in the episode where we say oh, we’re drinking tea today with whatever the herb we’re talking about in it. And today we are not, because very sadly we are out of tulsi. I’m not even certain how that’s possible. But don’t worry, we have some on the way. So, sometimes when you run out of a favorite herb, that’s a time when it really becomes very apparent to you how important that herb is in your life, and how much you really lean on that herb. And the things that that herb can do in your body. And maybe, you know, you just drink it every day, so you don’t really think about it. You’re just like ah yeah, tulsi. I like it. I drink it. It’s great. But then when you don’t have it for a little while, you’re kind of like wow, okay. Now I’m very keenly aware all the things that tulsi is really helping me manage in my mood, in my emotional state, in my energetic levels or my energy levels to get things done in the day. And, you know, my response to stimuli, right? Like something goes wrong, and do I get really upset about it, or do I kind of flow with it or whatever. Yeah. So, I think that is maybe just a reminder that it’s okay to run out of things sometimes. It can actually be really helpful to run out of things sometimes, because it does help you. Sometimes you drink it all the time, you’re just like eh. And then you stop drinking it, and you’re like oh, I’m very aware of why this is so important in my life.

Ryn (06:12):
Yeah. Sometimes when that happens, we try to recreate that herb through formulating other herbs together. And way back early in the podcast. I think it was like episode 30 or something like this.

Katja (06:25):
We were out of chamomile.

Ryn (06:27):
We were out of chamomile, and we did an episode where we tried to recreate chamomile with our other plants. We also took a stab at recreating tulsi there as well.

Katja (06:35):
We did, yeah. But the thing is that tulsi has some very special actions. It’s not the only plant that can do these things, but that it does package it into a really nice sort of profile or, portfolio of actions if you will. And I think that everyone is so aware of the emotional health and the mental health aspects of tulsi, that it’s not like we’re not going to talk about them. But I don’t want to start with them today. I would really like to start with some of the other actions that don’t get as much attention. And so I’m going to start with circulatory stimulation, because that is something that’s very important in my body. I have a cold, damp, sluggish, kind of lax constitution. And so what that means is that fluids don’t move as enthusiastically in my body, right? I don’t have edema, but I do have some varicose veins. And I do have a tendency for water to just sort of get stuck in the lower part of my body. And if I’m menstruating, or if I haven’t had a walk in a few days, then I can get in the direction of a little bit of puffiness.

Ryn (08:05):
Yeah. And a little pressure, a little pain.

Katja (08:06):
Yeah. Exactly. And so normally when we think about circulatory stimulants, we’re thinking about cayenne or ginger or prickly ash. We’re thinking about these really strong blood movers.

Ryn (08:18):
Smack yourself with some fresh nettles, you know. Let’s soak you in horseradish, whatever.

Katja (08:24):
Yeah, right, right, right. And tulsi is not as strong as those, but it is consistent. And it is reliable. It is absolutely moving fluids at a steady pace through the body. And so that is something that I really appreciate, but I also want to draw in the emotional health aspect. I cannot actually wait till the end.

Ryn (08:54):
It’s a parallel, right? And we see this a lot with all of the herbs we work with. That there’s this parallel between the effect in your physicality and an effect in your emotionality.

Katja (09:04):
Okay, now say it again, because I think it’s that important.

Ryn (09:06):
Yeah. There’s a parallel of effects, right? So, with an herb like this, where it’s moving, and circulating, and brings things up to the surface, and moves blood out to the periphery.

Katja (09:16):
And back again.

Ryn (09:17):
Yeah, and circulates it through. There’s the similar kind of movement, a similar kind of change happening in your emotional patterns.

Trauma, Processing, & Digestion

Katja (09:25):
Yeah. So, if you look at some older writing around tulsi, you’ll see references to things like stuck emotions, helps to move stuck emotions. And that’s not an un-useful statement. It’s absolutely useful. I can think of lots of things that get stuck in my emotions. Like maybe you’re crabby about something. And you’re very aware of how crabby you are. And you’re like come on, come on, come on. I’ve got to snap out of this. And it’s just like not moving, right? You’re kind of stuck. You’re stuck in the mud about it. But more modern writing about tulsi would say that a little bit differently. And so instead it would say to help in processing post-traumatic emotional states, or to help… Processing is often the word that’s getting used there of emotions, of experiences, especially negative and traumatic ones that have a tendency to get stuck. And then we get stuck in that space of trauma and kind of can’t move past it. So, very much like the fluid exchange, you can think about emotions as kind of fluid and helping those to keep moving. It’s not fun to have traumatic experiences. I mean, that’s kind of a stupid sentence to say.

Ryn (11:00):
Nobody wants this to happen.

Katja (11:01):
Nobody wants it to happen.

Ryn (11:03):
It’s going to happen for essentially all of us.

Katja (11:05):
If you think throughout all of history, traumatic experience is in one way kind of part of human experience.

Ryn (11:14):
And it leads to many other parts of human experience that might feel more positive. But there’s no need to give comfort unless somebody’s upset. There’s no need to help people heal, unless they’ve been harmed. And those things where we’re doing the repair and the recovery work, and we’re taking care of each other. Sometimes those are your most positive memories. Sometimes those are really good experiences that rekindle your delight in other humans. And your faith in humanity is possibly worth saving after all. Stuff like that, right?

Katja (11:47):
So, I’m not trying to put too much of a silver lining on trauma. Because of course, as a person who’s experienced a lot of violent trauma. Obviously, that’s not super helpful. Just be like oh, but there was good stuff. No, that’s not helpful. But it is helpful to me often to recognize that trauma is not only something that I have gone through. That I’m somehow broken or whatever. But that trauma has been part of the human experience all along. And that we also have these plants that we are in relationship with – really, truly important deep relationships with – that assist us in processing that trauma. And you know, tulsi now is naturalized in North America. And there are some species that grow better in different regions of the country. But we grow it all over the U.S. But tulsi, originally it’s traditional relationship is in India or comes out of that region. And if you talk to basically any person from India, even a person who doesn’t have a strong affinity for herbalism and really was never into that kind of thing or whatever. I’ve never met somebody who didn’t know about tulsi. And almost every family has tulsi growing in their home or in the garden outside their home. And it is such a critically important plant in their culture. And that I think is really instructive. When I’m thinking about trauma, and processing trauma, and finding assistance in that work. And then I look at this plant and where it comes from. The people have such an intensely integrated relationship with it. It is integrated into their entire culture. It is integrated into every family’s life. And so that kind of helps me to feel not alone in that emotional work that needs to be done. Not alone in the present, but also not alone through the history of humanity in general. I hope that I… has that all made sense?

Ryn (14:32):
Yeah. Well, it made sense to me. So, probably, you know, some of our listeners. We’ll see what happens. You know, as you were talking, I was thinking about how you were talking about processing. You were talking about transformation. And that was making me think again about getting back to some fundamentals with this herb. This is a digestive plant, right? So, we see these parallels between moving your blood, and stirring things up, and circulating stagnant fluids in your emotional state. We also see connections between helping you to process food. Helping you to take things apart and break them down. And keep the useful stuff and get rid of what you don’t need. That sounds pretty emotional work, doesn’t it? Yeah. Because it is. And of course there are connections between if your digestion is off, stuck, sluggish, stagnant, crampy, bloated, whatever, then you’re going to feel not so great that day. You’re probably not going to be in the best possible mood. It’s likely that any grumpiness you were already feeling may be exacerbated by that. So, digestive herbs should never be discounted when we’re talking about emotional support. But there are so many plants like chamomile, and like basil, and like holy basil especially that are operating in this place where they touch both the digestive and the nervous systems.

Katja (15:51):
Yeah. I think about sage in that regard also. And that actually would be a lovely formula. Chamomile, tulsi, and sage. That would be really, really nice.

Katja (16:00):
Yeah, or catnip.

Katja (16:02):
It would taste good, yeah. And we would differentiate. If it was chamomile, tulsi, and sage, that would be a person who was very overwhelmed in the head. And you’re trying to hold a to-do list in your head, and you want to cram one more thing onto it. And it feels like it’s going to fall out of your head. Like those feelings of overwhelm are really, really in the top part of you. And that may be having digestive implications, but like the sort of mental pattern is really up. And then I would say if it was chamomile, tulsi, and catnip, that would be you’re feeling the kind of overwhelm that is giving you butterflies in the stomach. Or maybe fear or anxiety that’s rising up from the stomach. Like fear that you’re not going to be able to handle it, or anxiety that something’s going to go wrong or something like that. That’s how I would differentiate those.

Ocimum Species, Adaptogenic Actions, & Mottos

Ryn (17:02):
Yeah. Well, we could also comment perhaps that many of the things that we enjoy about tulsi, about holy basil, we can also find them from garden basil and other kinds of Ocimum species out there as well. So, we can let when we, when we talk about these botanically, tulsi, we’re in the habit of calling it Ocimum sanctum. It’s considered an out of date name now. We’re supposed to call it Ocimum tenuiflorum now instead.

Katja (17:32):
Man, when plants get reclassified.

Ryn (17:36):
Yeah. I like that it has sanctum right in there. That it has that call out to the spiritual in a sense. I think that’s pretty cool. And then, you know, garden basil, that’s Ocimum basilicum. And I guess that’s got a reference in it back to kings and churches and that kind of thing.

Katja (17:53):
Well, I think of basilicum or basilica in term of like Eastern Orthodox terminology.

Ryn (18:02):
Yeah. I’m not sure how the Latin breaks down that.

Katja (18:05):
But at any rate, yes, definitely still a spirituality kind of reference.

Ryn (18:11):
Yeah. And then there’s this other one that sometimes is called African basil, Ocimum gratissimum. And I’ve seen that being the species that was sold as holy basil at least a couple of times.

Katja (18:25):
Is that grateful basil?

Ryn (18:27):
It could be like grass-like basil perhaps. Because sometimes gratissimum is like grass leaved or something like this.

Katja (18:33):
I’m just thinking about… Yeah. Well anyway, I’m going with grateful basil. I also want to make a call out to Thai basil. Because that is a basil that… And I don’t know the species name for that one.

Ryn (18:47):
It might be a different… Yeah.

Katja (18:49):
But that is another plant that people might have experience with, because maybe you go and eat Thai food or something. That might be where you are coming across it. And you know, it is a garden basil kind of plant in terms of you put it in the dinner. But I find it a little spicier, a little more in the tulsi direction. And all of these are going to be relevant in terms of the general actions of basils across the board. Tulsi is not the only basil that can support you in your emotional health. That can help you move through difficult times. That can also help you digest difficult meals or difficult emotions or whatever else. Actually all of the basils can do that. All of the basils help with that. And so if you’re looking for a mood boost, and you like we are out of tulsi right now, you can probably find basil of whatever variety, right? Regular garden basil, Thai basil, African basil, whatever at your grocery store. And don’t discount that. It’s quite potent. It’s quite effective.

Ryn (20:20):
Yeah. Particularly in terms of the aromatic elements. That helps with the circulation. That helps with digestive relaxation. That helps with altering your mental and emotional state. The question that usually comes up in this area is like okay, but tulsi is an adaptogen. So, are all of the basils adaptogenic?

Katja (20:43):

Ryn (20:44):
Let’s ask the judges.

Katja (20:45):
I don’t know, have they…

Ryn (20:46):
Everybody hold up your cards.

Katja (20:48):
I guess I haven’t seen data on whether or not that has actually been studied.

Ryn (20:52):
I don’t feel like this is an answered question right now. I think that there are some sensorial differences between them. But that question is one that you need to answer through time. You need to say all right, well we’re going to… Ideally, we would set up a whole experiment, right? And we would give some people some other aromatic. And we would give you garden basil. And we would give you tulsi. And we would track you for let’s give it six months, why not, in my imaginary world where I get to design studies. And then we’ll see how much you rate your experience of stress on a daily basis throughout that entire time. And try to see if the folks who take the tulsi are substantially less stressed out than others. That might be kind of good. But until we have something like that, I think it’s an open question.

Katja (21:38):
I think it’s also worth noting that the plants in the category adaptogens, there are very specific actions that they are looking for to classify a plant into that category.

Ryn (21:54):
Yeah. Where they is really any number of a bunch of different groups of people. And they all might have their own criteria for what counts as a true adaptogen or not.

Katja (22:01):
Right. However, all of the plants that have really ever been considered are not common plants. This is work that was done by men, by scientists, by people trying to encourage profit. I’m trying to make a category of people here. And originally that was how they were going about finding these herbs. That was their goal in studying these kinds of effects.

Ryn (22:41):
Not necessarily profit through selling that plant. But like hey, if we can make our workers 10 times more productive, then that will be… you know.

Katja (22:47):
Right. If we can make our workers work harder with less input and less resources. Yeah. Food and sleep, yeah. Primarily food and sleep. Then we’ll make more money. That was the original goal in identifying adaptogens. And so the plants that have been studied tend to be the impressive plants. The plants that seem powerful. And people have not really studied nettle, you know, like boring plants, like kitchen plants.

Ryn (23:29):
With the same goals in mind, the same determination, yeah.

Katja (23:31):
Right. Like women’s medicine or like family medicine or whatever. Like oh no, that’s just what you do in your kitchen. That can’t be strong enough to get us more profits. You know, like whatever. So, I don’t even know if they’ve looked at basils, at the rest of the basils.

Ryn (23:54):
For some of these definitions, it would be like it has to have an activity on one or more of the organs in the HPA axis. And I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if the other basils do have some degree of action there. And then people are going to start arguing about whether that type of action counts or that degree of activity counts or whatever. And we can do that all day. That’s fine. But a lot of the benefit on structures in your brain, for instance, is going to be gotten just by improving blood circulation up to there. And tulsi, we were talking about circulation throughout the system, but it does have an upward movement to it. And that’s one of the reasons we often like to pair it together with things like rosemary or ginkgo for that matter. When people are feeling the brain fog, you want something to kind of rise up and cut through. And so, these aromatic herbs are really good for that.

Katja (24:41):
Yeah. I guess I feel like if I’m going to have a kind of theme with tulsi, or kind of like a motto, or some way to remember it, it would be like maybe this too shall pass. And that is true. Tulsi does help things to pass. But also whenever I say that phrase, I remember being a freshman in high school. And our vice principal, who was really nice, at that school… You know, there’s always like the vice principal who is in charge of discipline. And that person, everybody thinks that they’re not very nice. And then it doesn’t matter what they really are. Just you’re 15 years old, so you have opinions about whatever. And then there’s the one that’s like in charge of student welfare or something, and everybody thinks that person is really nice. Okay, well, whatever. It was that person. And she stood up. And there were like, you know, a couple hundred of us all sitting together and huddled. Like oh no, high school is scary. And she stood up there, and she’s like listen. The only thing you really need to know is that a lot of things are going to happen. And some of them won’t be very fun, and some of them will be very fun. But this too shall pass. Like when bad things happen, just know that it won’t last forever. It will go by. And it made such an impact on me. And so that feeling of sitting together in a community experience and being told it’s going to be okay. Like some days will be hard, but they won’t all be hard and whatever. And so for me, that motto, this too shall pass, is kind of preloaded with community experience and community support. Not that high school was filled with everybody being so kind and supportive to one another. But in that moment there was a lot of huddling together for safety and courage. And so, yeah, just in that one little moment of high school it felt like that. And so that’s what I think about when I think about tulsi. You’re not alone. We’re going to work through this together. We’re going to move things. We’re going to move through it. We’re going to, you know, whatever on a physical level, on an emotional level.

Ryn (27:14):
I like that. We could also give it a slogan like this will be a memory, you know? And on the one hand that’s like well, I’m feeling pretty good right now. So, this will be a memory at some point. I better enjoy what’s happening in this moment. I better be present. Tulsi can help you do that. Or maybe this will be a memory like boy, things really suck. And I’ve just got to get through it somehow. But someday this will just be a memory, and I’ll probably smirk about it. Okay. That’s nice too. Or even this will be a memory, because I’m actually going to remember it this time. Because the tulsi is going to keep my brain working.

Katja (27:44):
Yes. Oh, wow. This works on many levels. Yeah, that’s nice. I like it.

Ryn (27:49):
That could be fun. Nice.

Evening Primrose: A Spicy/Slimy Grow Your Own

Ryn (27:52):
All right. Let’s talk about Evening primroses.

Katja (27:54):
I love to talk about evening primrose, because this is a plant that people don’t consider in the herbal context very often. Or if they do, what they think about is just the supplements of the evening primrose oil.

Ryn (28:10):
I always have to remind myself about that. Because I’ll start and be like yeah, evening primrose. Let me tell you all about it. And then I’m like starting to get into my roll and I’m like wait, wait. Okay. So, I know that mostly you’re only ever going to find seeds and seed oil, and I honestly don’t care about any of that.

Katja (28:24):
Yeah. That’s not the part. That’s not the part.

Ryn (28:27):
Whatever. It’s fine. Some people seem to like it. Some folks say it helps with their style of PMs. Some people say it helps with their particular symptom set during menopause, this and that. You can go to any million other websites about that aspect of evening primrose. Let’s tell you about the other parts.

Katja (28:42):
The other parts. So, wait, before we do, you’re going to get really excited about evening primrose as we talk about it. And so I just have to preface this by saying no, you really can’t buy it. Unless if one of y’all, or some of y’all listening are herb farmers, please plant evening primrose. It’s so easy. It wants to grow. Please plant it, because I would really love if this were something that people could purchase. But it’s not right now, but it’s so easy to grow. Now across the country, there are a few different species. If evening primrose doesn’t grow where you are, you could try Missouri primrose. That has a little more southerly like climate zone that it will grow in. But honestly, evening primrose grows pretty far south as well. South and north. And then Missouri primrose will go the rest of the way south for you. But any of the primroses that have the flavor profile that we’re going to talk about if you nibble the leaves. And it’s just a little spicy, kind of like spicy lettuce. Not the same as arugula. Spicy more like a peppery cayenne kind of flavor.

Ryn (30:06):
A little bit of pungency in there. Yeah. But at the same time, just a little feeling of okra. So, you’ve got lettuce with cayenne and okra together. And it’s mild – both of those are mild – but it’s very clear. You will not be like is this it? I’m not sure. No, it’s very clear. You will definitely taste it.

Ryn (30:30):
So, a little slimy as you chew on the leaf. Like you’ll start, and it’ll just be a leaf. And then as you keep chewing it’s like oh, there’s some velvetiness, there’s some sliminess coming out of here.

Katja (30:40):
Yeah. Not as much slime as aloe vera. No. But just the feeling of a little bit of coating everywhere in your mouth. So, okay. But that’s the thing is that you do have to grow it. You can sometimes buy seeds for it, but also, it’s a very distinctive plant. I can’t show you a picture, because this is a podcast. And unless you’re watching on YouTube, you wouldn’t be able to see it. But it’s okay, because if you Google or do any kind of internet search for evening primrose, you’ll see the pictures. And it’s very, very distinctive. And so when you find it… And it’s very distinctive through the winter too. The seed pods that go up the stalk are really not like any other kind of seed pod. And so if you want to grow evening primrose, all you have to do is get a stalk after the flowers are done, before the seed pods open, or when they’re just barely starting to open. But after all the leaves and stuff like that have passed. Just cut the stalk. Bring it home. Shake it around your garden. You’re going to have plenty of evening primrose. And then you’ll never run out again, because it will self-seed every year. It doesn’t need a lot of maintenance. It doesn’t need you to fuss over it. It will grow itself. If you just get the seeds to your garden or a bucket, it’s fine. It’s perfectly happy to grow in a bucket. Okay. So, now we’ll tell you all the wonderful things about evening primrose. But you’re going to be where do I get this? This is how you get it. It’s going to take just little more effort than just buying it. But it’s going to be so worth it.

Ryn (32:21):
There might be some Etsy folks that are selling tinctures of evening primrose aerial parts.

Katja (32:26):
There might be.

Ryn (32:27):
Maybe. But you know.

Katja (32:28):
If not, and you are an Etsy folk, and you have evening primrose, this is an opportunity. Please take it, because people will want it.

Ryn (32:35):
Yeah. We work with evening primrose as tincture. We like it as tea though in particular. If we have enough plant material to dry and dehydrate and store and everything and have that around for tea, we’re going to prefer to do that. Tincture might be a little easier to make or last longer or whatever.

Katja (32:55):
If you don’t have a lot, then you can make more medicine as tincture. If you’re tincturing it, you can take the entire above the ground part. In fact we’ve even put the roots in. Wash ‘them, but just chop the whole darn plant up and put it in. So, really one plant will make you enough tincture to last through the year.

Moistening & Warming For the Airy Pattern

Ryn (33:14):
True, true. Well, you know, the flavor tells us stuff, right? So, when an herb has that kind of slimy feeling in the mouth as you chew on the leaves, that tells you this is a demulcent plant that’s going to have a moistening aspect to it. So, that always makes my ears perk up, mostly because I have a dry constitution myself. But also because when we talk about herbs, you get way more drying plants in your material medica than you find moistening plants. So, you kind of want to pay a little extra attention to them for all your friends and future cohort who may be on the dry side. Evening primrose isn’t as moistening as marshmallow, possibly not even so much as sassafras leaf, but it does have a lean in that direction. And that can be really handy.

Katja (33:58):
I would definitely put it in the sassafras direction. I would say that it’s as moistening as marshmallow leaf.

Ryn (34:04):
Oh, okay.

Katja (34:05):
I think I would. I think I would.

Ryn (34:08):
Yeah. But it’s nice, right? It has that warm flavor to it. And you know, we didn’t say it, but it has a bit of a bitterness to it as well. Maybe that’s a little more noticeable on a fresh plant than after it’s been dried. When we make tea, I don’t usually feel a ton of bitterness.

Katja (34:21):
You know, even in the fresh plant, I feel like the bitter is quite mild. It’s a bitter that’s easy to swallow, you know? Yeah.

Ryn (34:31):
Yeah. Those fresh leaves though, they’re really good. I like to chew on them when they’re in season.

Katja (34:35):
And that’s a perfectly legitimate way to work with this plant is just put it in your salad. Wait, you were talking about always paying attention when there is a moistening plant. Doubly always pay attention when there’s a moistening plant that is warming, because that is super uncommon. Typically a moistening plant is cooling. It’s really uncommon for a plant to be both moistening with that real demulcent action and to have warming actions. Of course you could always formulate, but it’s cool when it comes in one package.

Ryn (35:08):
Right. And then to have even a small amount of bitter at the same time, that’s good stuff. That’s like custom made for your… I mean, if we’re doing Ayurveda, then it would be your Vata type, but whatever. Like people who are tense, who are dry, who are a little on the cold side. And that’s not just the way they present in the world as their personality and their emotional pattern, but also their digestion: tense, cold and dry. This herb is fantastic. You know, just go graze on those leaves for a while, and then come back and you’ll be ready for dinner. Or we can make you a nice cup of tea, whatever you prefer.

Katja (35:41):
Yeah. And you know, that also goes along with a mental type as well. So, if you think about what is a dry emotional state or a dry mental state. That’s like a tumbleweed in your brain, right? It’s hard to get traction on things. It’s very floating away and…

Ryn (36:04):
Air pattern kind of stuff.

Katja (36:05):
Yeah. It might be easier to focus on scrolling through Twitter than it is to focus on a detailed, tangible project, right? That would be dryness in the emotional state.

Ryn (36:19):
Yeah. Or even a tendency to be like well, I need to work on my outline. Or I need to get more of my table data organized properly. Or I need to do this or that. Like anything other than the hands-on work, the on the ground stuff, the in dirt kind of stuff. Just like always no, I need a 30,000 foot view summary. I need another dozen perspectives on this to collate.

Katja (36:47):
Yeah. Well, and even that, like maybe you have to write a paper. And you won’t write the paper, because you’re like no, I’ve got to search again for more resources, right? Like always the flowing in the air one. And it doesn’t even necessarily have to be tangible work, like washing the dishes or whatever. It also could just be like the tangible work of synthesizing your thoughts and getting them out in complete sentences that make sense to other people.

Ryn (37:20):
That last part’s always the tricky one.

Katja (37:21):
Right. Like oh, you know what? I’ll just keep looking for more resources. I’ll just keep searching for another study. I’ll just, whatever. Yeah, that pattern.

Ryn (37:30):
Yeah. So, in a sense, I mean, some of that is what might be described as a grounding activity or a grounding effect or action on the system from this.

Katja (37:41):
Yeah. And, you know, I feel like it has that… Like we have a trauma crossover here too, right? Because we can think about I described that dryness in the emotional state and that airy pattern specifically with regard to productivity or moving through your day. Yeah. But that is also a description of dissociation. Of like it’s not safe to be in my body. It’s too painful to be in my body. So, I’m just going to move up out of it and just stay in the air above my body. Like my mental self, my emotional self is no longer really in my body. It’s kind of like above in the ether above me. And listen, that is a thing that humans – I don’t know. Maybe animals do it too. I have no idea. But that humans do to protect themselves, right? If you find yourself in that state, there’s not anything wrong with you. Your brain, your whatever is trying to protect you. And so that’s great. Thanks me. I really appreciate that you are caring for me. But it is not comfortable to live that way for a long period of time. And it also isn’t very efficient to live that way for a long period of time. Because you’re kind of just like a balloon tied to your body. And that’s just like more layers of having to go through to get tangible things done in a day. And so it’s not bad. It’s just uncomfortable. And so sometimes that happens as a means of protection. And then when we recognize it, we may recognize it because of the discomfort. Okay, well great. But also now it’s not going to be super comfortable to get back into the body, because we’ve been out for a little while. And now we’re stuck in this place where like nothing is comfortable. It’s not comfortable to be out of the body. It’s not going to be comfortable to get back into the body. Maybe we have a little anxiety or tension about the idea of even trying to do that. Evening primrose.

Ryn (40:00):

Katja (40:02):
Yeah. Just softly, gently moving you back in that direction. Like the heat gets that movement going. But then it’s like, but don’t worry. I’m going to smooth the way for you with the demulcent action. Yeah.

Ryn (40:19):
Yeah. And you know, when we talk about this in terms of tea and that kind of preparation, it’s primarily the leaves. When the flowers are there, you absolutely want to include those. If anything they’re a little more moistening than the leaves are. You might not put stems into your tea. Although like we mentioned in tincture we’ll include that as well.

Katja (40:39):
It’s not always easy to get the flowers, because they’re night blooming. So, you can get them very early in the morning if you go out to harvest. Or if you go out at moon rise, you can usually get them then too. But you won’t get a lot at a time, because they have fresh flowers every night. And so then the flowers are tricky if you want to dry them for tea, because you just have a couple. And so it’s challenging. But it’s also worth it, because it’s kind of great.

A Safe Herb With Its Own Botanic Family

Ryn (41:14):
Yeah. They’re really lovely. So far as we’ve been able to determine after digging and looking, the evening primroses aerial parts are very, very safe to work with as well. You will see occasional warnings about evening primrose as an herb or as a supplement. Those are all in reference to the oil, the seed oil preparation. And so you’re going to see some cautions around like not taking this together with blood thinners or a few other things here and there. Those probably don’t apply to the tea or the tincture of this plant.

Katja (41:50):
I mean, it’s green and leafy, and it’s going to have some mineral content. So, if you’re on one of the blood thinners where they want you to be very cautious about leafy greens. Okay. Well most herbs are leafy greens in that case. So, maybe we’d be cautious there. But it that would be a pretty outside, super conservative kind of caution.

Ryn (42:18):
Yeah. And that would be the opposite really, because in that case your concern is do I interfere with the activity of the blood thinner? And now it’s a little thicker than it should be. Whereas with the seed oil it’s like oh, it’s going to enhance the activity of the blood thinner and make it even more thin.

Katja (42:32):
Right. If you want to make an error, it’s better to go in the inhibit the blood thinner, than in the make it even thinner direction. It’s better to not make an error, but…

Ryn (42:46):
Well, yeah. We’ll proceed with appropriate caution in all circumstances. But you know, I just wanted to say that. Because this is one case among many where the parts of a plant are substantially different from each other in terms of, well, what people take it for and things like that, but also in terms of safety considerations. And this has been on my mind a lot lately as we’re refreshing content and filming new content for the Herb Safety and Herb Drug Interactions course. And there I feel like one of the major things that I want to repeat as often as I have to, which is a lot of times, is that statements made about X herb – statements about chamomile, statements about ginseng, statements about evening primrose – they’re only helpful at a certain level of granularity and detail. And you almost never get it. So, it’s like we identified a potential interaction between this drug and this herb. Your next question is what preparation of that herb? Are we talking about something I made at home in my kitchen with herbs I gathered from my backyard? Or are we talking about something that it requires an industrial facility to create and high temperature, high pressure machines and that kind of stuff? Because you can have access to either of those in this world. And there’s appropriate situations to take one or the other, and all that’s true. But a lot of times the warnings, or the cautions, or the drug interactions, or whatever about herbs, they’re said in a very flat way. And they might be completely inaccurate in a more specific instance.

Katja (44:21):
Right. Often they refer more to the more pharmaceuticalized version of the plant. Not always, sometimes just outright a cup of tea. I mean, if we’re talking about St. John’s wort, the tea is enough to do it. But often that is not the case. And so yeah, it is challenging to go through and read the interaction potential. And then really think through okay, what is that potential for a cup of tea versus for an industrial isolation of a particular constituent in this plant. That then might be boosted in a supplement that is standardized to a certain level of that particular isolated constituent. I.e., milk thistle capsules that are standardized to a certain amount of silymarin content.

Ryn (45:21):
Yeah. Okay. So, just to say that the seed and the leaf are not equivalent in this herb. Yeah. All right. A small aside. This is slightly off topic, but it’s a connected detour here. So, evening primroses, it’s got its own botanical family called the Onagraceae, the evening primrose family. And there’s another member there of that group that I wanted to just talk about for a minute. This is one that I find often when I go hang out at Hall’s Pond in Brookline. That’s like a piece of Boston. Okay. Don’t let the Brookliners hear me say that, but it’s right next to Boston. How about that?

Katja (46:02):
Yeah, it’s where Fenway Park is.

Ryn (46:03):
Yeah. But there’s a great little park tucked right over into there. And there’s a wooded area and some meadow spots and this and that. And I used to try to identify all the plants over there that I could. And one that I saw a lot was in the evening primrose family, and it’s called Circaea lutetiana or Circaea canadensis. And it’s English name is enchanter’s nightshade. Ooh, that sounds pretty cool, right? It turns out this is not a nightshade plant, so, okay. That’s actually good, because many nightshades are not something you want to just nibble on.

Katja (46:37):
Right, right.

Ryn (46:38):
Right. So, this plant, I’m not very sure if it has medicinal qualities. I’ve looked around a bunch of times, and I’ve asked a number of other herbalist. And I didn’t really find a whole lot. But I have eaten a bunch of leaves, and they do taste pretty good. They taste kind of similar to evening primrose. Not as pungent, not as slimacious, but just in that direction, you know? Circaea, the Latin name for this, it includes a reference to Circe, who is a sorceress, a witch, an enchantress, a wise woman.

Katja (47:11):
A practicer of magic.

Ryn (47:13):
Survivor from Greek mythology. And we both recently read this book, Circe, by Madeline Miller.

Katja (47:21):
Oh my goodness.

Ryn (47:22):
We got a copy at our local library, and it was fantastic.

Circaea & Finding the Fullness of Herbalism

Katja (47:26):
Yeah. You know, and this is about herbs actually, I particularly loved that if you read a lot of Greek mythology or Roman mythology, it can feel kind of inaccessible. It can feel stilted or just hard to relate to. Or like it’s hard to find the actual story. You’re like well, I know the bullet points of what happened, but I didn’t get the story. I don’t feel like I have any meat on the whatever. You know, it’s just bullet points. It’s like the PowerPoint version of a story, right, a lot of times when you read the old mythology. And interestingly – this is where it ties into herbs – herbalism is like that too. A lot of times when you read old, and I mean really old herb books, there’s just a lot of blanks that aren’t filled in. There’s so much between the lines. And you’re like what’s in there? I don’t know. And I don’t even know what I don’t know, because it’s hard for me to access the thought patterns, and the language, and the relationships that people had with plants.

Ryn (48:37):
We don’t know what context we don’t have.

Katja (48:39):
Sometimes we know that we don’t have some context and we don’t know how to get it. But then also there’s a great deal of context that we don’t realize we’re missing. All we do is we read it, and we realize that there are gaps. Or unfortunately, perhaps we do not realize that there are gaps. And we think we now know a bunch of stuff, and we go act on it. And that’s not necessarily as good. And so when you read this book, Circe by Madeline Miller, this is just outright a telling of the myth. It’s just the myth. Except it is told in the fullness of the story with all the blanks filled in, and all the things they were thinking that they didn’t say out loud, and all the emotions, and all the everything. So, reading that story really helped me understand like oh, this is how people were experiencing these stories back then. Because of course, the way that they wrote it down… None of these stories ever were written down until they were. Like for generations they were just oral tradition. And they weren’t told this way. They were told with voices, and sound effects, and music in the background, and like all this stuff. They were a whole performance. And what we have when we read the Iliad or whatever is like the notes, so that the story tellers won’t forget the order of the story. And so reading that book and feeling the fullness of the context made me think constantly about old, old, old herb sources. And recognizing that this fullness is the part that we’re missing. And it’s not inaccessible, it just takes a great deal of study to be able to recreate. Well, maybe some parts are inaccessible, but some parts are not. It just takes a lot of study and also direct experience with the plants to be able to fill in all those gaps. And to me that is super fascinating, and one of the reasons that herbalism is a lifelong pursuit for me. Because it literally can never become boring, because there’s always more of that stuff to be done.

Ryn (50:57):
Yeah. Absolutely. A couple other thoughts around the enchanter’s nightshade. There is just a bunch of wonderful words associated with this plant, so I hope you’ll indulge me a little bit. So, when we talk about the edges of leaves, we can give them different descriptors. And the one for this plant is sinuate. It has a sinuate leaf margin, which is to say that it’s kind of wavy. But it’s wavy in the flat plane of the leaf, rather than like waving up and down above the plane of the leaf. That would be like what you get with yellow dock, right? Curly dock leaf? That has an undulate leaf margin. Yeah.

Katja (51:38):
And so sinuate is like this, and undulate is like that.

Ryn (51:41):
Think of the line of snake draws on the soil as it goes along.

Ryn (51:46):
The enchanter’s nightshade also has these tiny little fluffy burr things that stick to you, and they go with you everywhere. And the word for seed dispersal from a plant that’s enabled by furry animals is zoochory. Z o o c h o r y. And this is from ancient Greek roots zoo- or zoo, animal, and -chory which is for movement. And you can think of choreography, right? So, zoochory is the movement by animals. And that’s what those little burrs are for. And I’m going to be even fancier. This is epizoochory, as opposed to endozoochory, which is where the animals eat the seeds and then later deposit them somewhere else.

Katja (52:32):
You know what? Like okay, we think that plants are so different. We’re like oh, well I’m a human, and that’s a kind of animal. And then there’s plants, and that’s a totally different thing. But like everybody has to worry about where am I going to raise my children?

Ryn (52:48):
Where are they going to go to college?

Katja (52:49):
Right? And plants have to solve that problem in a different way than humans do, because plants can’t just pack up their family and move somewhere else where they have better schools. I mean, also many humans cannot do that either, because that’s not accessible to all people. So, let’s just make all schools fantastic, please. But yeah, these are problems that all beings have to solve. Not just, you know, how am I going to pay for college that adults worry about. Okay, dogs don’t worry about that. No, dogs have to educate their pups. Like every species of living thing has to educate it’s young and has to provide a good nourishing environment for it’s young to grow up in. And plants have to think about that. And different types of plants have solved that problem in different types of ways. And zoochory is one of those ways.

Ryn (53:43):
Yeah. It turns out that this whole thing of the epizoochory of having the burrs with the hooks on them or the fuzz or whatever. Only about 5% of plants disperse their seeds that way. So, that’s still, you know, one out of 20. But maybe here’s a pop quiz for you listeners. Can you think of a medicinal plant that gets its seeds around by having burrs stick to you or your dog and take them somewhere else?

Katja (54:07):
I can think of so many.

Ryn (54:09):
We have to give them a second. They’re thinking,

Katja (54:12):
Are they done?

Ryn (54:13):
They’re done now. Okay.

Katja (54:14):
Okay. Well, of course, burdock is one of the very first ones. But also beggarstick, Bidens.

Ryn (54:21):
Cleaver seeds?

Katja (54:23):
Cleavers. Triphylla does that. And that might not be a plant that you have experienced in the wild. But I grew up in a part of Texas that had a plant that had seedpods that were super, super similar to triphylla, like alarmingly similar. And I don’t know what that species is, because we just always called them stickers. And that doesn’t help me with the plant id, but super, super similar to triphylla. So, yeah.

Ryn (54:59):
So, I hope you’ll pardon the aside. This is not exactly a medicinal plant, at least so far as we know now. But I do think it’s fun to learn plant stuff, even if it’s not herbalism, quote-unquote.

Katja (55:11):
Whatever. It is still, because just learning about the way that plants live. We spend a lot of time learning about how humans live. If you have pets, you spend a lot of time learning about how animals live. But learning about how plants live is actually really critical to understanding how we should be in relationship with them and how to better be in relationship with them. So, I think it’s pretty cool.

Ryn (55:37):
Nice. All right. So, before we go, I just want to put a little ad in here for our Neurological and Emotional Health course. These two herbs we talked about today, tulsi and evening primrose, they make a bunch of appearances in that course. This one is kind of like our user’s guide to your emotions, including the difficult ones and the dark ones. And also how to find or to hold on to some of the brighter ones.

Katja (56:07):
That course also has a user’s guide to all the other parts of your neurology as well. So, pain management and neurological disorders like MS or fibromyalgia or Parkinson’s or whatever. Because you can’t really manage emotional health without managing the health of the nerves themselves. But then also we need to manage the health of the neurotransmitters. But then also we need to manage the health of all the hormones. And then also we need to… And so, there’s just a lot of overlap. We think about mental health. It can be as simple as you can probably make anybody feel just a little bit better with a nice cup of tulsi tea and some companionship. It can be that simple, but it also can be really complex. And you can get all these different factors layered in there. And sometimes when you are dealing with some really intractable problems, whether that’s emotional or pain or whatever else, sometimes you need all those layers. Because you start to realize like oh, okay, I do need some neurotransmitter maintenance. And I also need some nerve cell maintenance. And I also need some… Anyway, so all of that is in there.

Ryn (57:21):
Plus, you get everything that comes with enrollments in any one of our courses. And that includes lifetime access to current and future course material. Twice weekly live Q&A sessions with us. Open discussion threads integrated into every lesson. We’ve got an active student community going on there with lots of freeform talk going on. We’ve got study guides. We’ve got quizzes. We’ve got capstone assignments for you at the end, so you can really prove, mostly to yourself, that you learned it.

Katja (57:48):
Well, and to us too, because we’re the ones who read them. And then we have a conversation with you about it and whatever. Certificates if that’s important to you and yeah, all that good stuff.

Ryn (57:59):
So, you can check all of that out at online.commonwealthherbs.com. All right. That’s it for the podcast this week. We’ll be back next time with some more for you. Until then, take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. Drink some tea.

Katja (58:13):
Drink some tea.

Ryn (58:14):
And practice your epizoo-choreography. All right. Bye everybody.

Katja (58:20):


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