Podcast 204: Herbs A-Z: Palmaria & Passiflora

A seaweed and a vine-flower, how are they alike? We started out this episode feeling like these two herbs were completely different from one another. By the time we got to the end, though, we found a unifying quality or two.

Dulse, whose Latin name is Palmaria palmata, is our favorite choice for those who are new to seaweeds. It has a mild flavor, isn’t too ‘fishy’ or too ‘slimy’. It may not exactly be “bacon of the sea”, but it sure does add a nice salty & umami flavor to dishes! Dulse is also a great provider of minerals (but not too much iodine, so don’t worry). Its nourishing qualities support us in a very grounded way, at the mineral levels of bone, muscle, and nerve health. In archetypal terms, it is an “earth of water” herb.

Passiflora incarnata is the botanical name for passionflower. This is an astonishingly beautiful flower – make a web search to check out some photos, you’ll see what we mean. (Oh, and don’t neglect ‘passionflower UV light’ as a search term: see what it looks like to bees!) It’s an excellent plant to sit with for meditation – and it can help you move into a more meditative state of mind, too. Famously helpful in sleep formulae, passionflower helps rein in the spinning, anxous mind, and brings it inward and downward. If you’re comfortable with elemental language, it might make sense to look at this herb as embodying the “earth of air.”

If you’re having trouble sleeping, if anxiety is keeping you up at night, we’ve got a plan for that. Our short course, Holistic Help for Better Sleep, teaches you key strategies for lengthening and deepening your rest each night. You’ll also meet our favorite herbs to help with sleep disturbances and insomnia, and how to choose the right herbs for your own personal sleep needs. What’s more, 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!

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Episode Transcript

Katja (00:14):
Hi, I’m Katja.

Ryn (00:14):
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. Well, so we’re continuing on with our series where we’re looking at the herbs on our apothecary shelves in their alphabetical order by Latin name. And a lot of the entries in this series, we’ve had these fortunate pairings of… Well, like last week with tulsi and evening primrose, where that’s just a lovely…

Katja (00:42):
Two great herbs that go great together.

Ryn (00:43):
A great formula right there by itself, you know? Or there’s been comparison or contrast between two herbs that are next to each other. Or we run into a whole group that are all in the same genus, like when we did three mints in one show. But today is not like that. Today we have Palmaria palmata and Passiflora incarnata, dulse and passionflower.

Katja (01:05):
Two herbs that have nothing to do with each other, nothing in common.

Ryn (01:09):
I was trying for a while. I was like well, you could… They’re both relaxant. That’s all I got. That’s it. So, that’s fine. No problem. We’re going to do this anyway.

Know Your Latin Names, Study Tips & Other Free Courses

Katja (01:22):
Hey, you were just mentioning as a like reminder that we are going in order of Latin name. And if you are new to the podcast, or maybe you just never heard us say it before. I think we maybe have it some point. But the point here is why would we put our plants on the shelves by Latin name?

Ryn (01:45):
Just to show off. Just to feel cool, basically,

Katja (01:49):
To feel cool. No. I mean, kind of. It is kind of cool. But so here’s where I admit that despite that I used to teach high school Latin, I had an enormously difficult time learning the Latin names of plants. It was so embarrassing. It was so bad. Ryn learned them in two seconds. But the thing is that when I started as an herbalist, I did not learn the Latin names. I only learned the common names. Because back then, nobody really placed much emphasis on the Latin names at all, or well, many things. And so I just never learned them. And I struggled to learn the Latin names. But listen, it’s super important. You really have to know the Latin names because, for example, a plant that, that is near and dear to my heart, wood betony. Well, that is many different plants. It depends on where you are. And if you’re in the United States, and you say wood betony, on the Eastern part of the United States, you probably mean Stachys officinalis. And if you’re in the Western part of the United States, you probably mean Pedicularis one of many species. These two plants are not even related to each other. They’re not even in the same family, like nothing. And okay, they have some crossover in function, but that’s coincidental. They’re not related in any way to one another. So, it really, really is important to learn the Latin names, even though it’s very challenging. And a lot of people say things like I’m never going to be able to learn them. It’s really hard. And so one of the tricks that we tell people is a trick that worked for me. It’s the thing that finally worked for me, which was label your jars with the Latin names. And if you need to, then on the back of them, you can put… I’m just looking to see if one of them has it here. Like our sassafras has it. That if you need to, on the back you can put the common name. And then your jars sort of become like flashcards, right?

Katja (04:04):
So, when we first started we did that, because sometimes you know immediately what herb you’re looking at in the jar. But sometimes if it’s just like chopped up little bits of green confetti, sometimes they can look alike. And you might not feel super confident just looking at it. And so we did put the comment on the back and the Latin on the front. But the key here is that that is the thing that finally helped me to learn it, because it put it in front of my eyes all of the time. It became common, right? And so if you are having trouble learning the Latin names, this is a trick that might work for you too. And that’s not all. That’s not all. We’ve got so many more tricks in terms of how to learn herbalism. You know, a lot of people say things like well, you know, I’m older. And my brain doesn’t retain information as well. And to that I say no, your brain is fantastic. Don’t worry. You’re going to get this in your head. But it’s a wild time out there. It’s hard for us to really focus on things, because there’s so much going on in the world. And so we have this free course. It’s called Herbal Study Tips. And you don’t have to put in your credit card or anything. You can just get it for free. And it has all kinds of ideas, and tricks, and learning games, and strategies that you can use to help things like Latin names, but also everything that you’re learning about herbs to really stick in your body, so that you don’t have to go look it up. You just know it, and you feel very confident about it.

Ryn (05:45):
Yeah. So, that’s our Herbal Study Tips course. And that’s really trying to help you get more efficient, but also actually – and this is important – more playful in the way that you go to learn your herbs. To really get it as far away as possible from I open my big dusty tome. And I stare at it until all the information has been absorbed into my cells. We’ve got a bunch of much better ideas.

Katja (06:09):
Yeah. Much more fun ideas.

Ryn (06:11):
Yeah. We’re going to help you learn herbalism with all of your senses. It’s going to be great. So, you can find that. You can also find another free course called Four Keys to Holistic Herbalism, which helps us to situate our work with herbs in the context of holistic practices and habits. And if that sounds like a bunch of fancy words, then it just means how is herbalism real? How does it show up in the real world in your real life? And how can we get beyond thinking about herbalism as like that thing I do with the little bottle that has a dropper on it. Or when I make tea, now I’m doing herbalism. And to see herbalism in all of the other parts of your life as well, because it’s there, or it will be. Yeah. So, these courses are free. Yes, really. Entirely free. You can find them and all of our other stuff at online.commonwealthherbs.com.

Katja (06:56):

Ryn (06:57):
Okay. So, before we talk about passionflower and dulse, we’re going to remind you that we’re not doctors. We’re herbalist and holistic health educators.

Katja (07:06):
The ideas discussed in this podcast do not constitute medical advice. No state or federal authority licenses herbalist in the United States. So, these discussions are for educational purposes only.

Ryn (07:17):
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 (07:32):
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 new information to think about and some ideas to research further.

Ryn (07:44):
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 by your friendly neighborhood herbalists or prescribed by a physician, that’s always your choice to make. Okay. Let’s talk about dulse.

Dulse: The Bacon of The Sea

Katja (08:09):
Dulse is such a sweet plant.

Ryn (08:15):
it’s a salty plant.

Katja (08:16):
It’s a salty plant. But it is such a sweet, kind, thoughtful seaweed. It like the seaweed for people who don’t like seaweed. It’s the seaweed for people who don’t even like the idea of seaweed. We tell people that seaweed is a great idea for all these reasons. And they’re like yeah, but no, it’s gross. It’s seaweed. And so for all of those situations, dulse is the answer. Because it has a very light flavor. It has almost like really no discernible sort of fishy or ocean flavor. It’s really just kind of salty, savory. There almost is a little sweetness in it. But it’s like, you know, we talk about bitters and something that’s just a really pure bitter, like centaury. For me, that becomes very difficult to work with, because that pure bitter is really intense. But in the case of dulse, it’s like kind of a pure saltiness, like without the complexity of all the ocean flavors going along with it. It’s just a very simple don’t worry. I’m just savory and salty. It’s okay kind of flavor.

Ryn (09:42):
Yeah. Savory. That’s an important word for this plant in terms of flavor profile. People also use that word umami for these.

Katja (09:49):
Yes, it is exactly that. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Ryn (09:51):
And you know, that can be valuable even if we’re just…I don’t even like that phrase, right? Even if we are simply talking about cooking, right? So, you can just put a little bit of dulse flakes into a dish of food that you’re cooking. And it will give a little extra depth, a little umami flavor to what you’ve got going on.

Katja (10:13):
And no ocean flavor, don’t worry. Just umami.

Ryn (10:16):
Yeah. But that compliments meats really well. That compliments mushrooms really well. It’s just an excellent thing to add.

Katja (10:22):
Potatoes. It’s really lovely if you have a baked potato. If you’ve ever had like potato skins with bacon bits and stuff like that on it. Bacon is an umami flavor actually. And so if you’re like well, I don’t have bacon. Or I don’t want to eat bacon, or whatever. You could have your baked potato with whatever you like to put on it – chives or whatever – and little dulse bits. And it would be really, really delicious.

Ryn (10:52):
Yeah. Now you’ve got me thinking about bacon. People think it’s just a big slab of fat, but it’s really fat contained within collagen, you know? And with the modern sort of perspectives on collagen, and collagen powders, and collagen in all of your processed foods and whatever, you have a kind of different look at bacon there. But then with dulse, it’s not collagen exactly. But it does have some interesting complex polysaccharides, including things called glycosaminoglycans which are sort of similar actually, and contain some of the same amino acids. So, when we break them down. If you eat seaweed, and you digest it and break it down, your body’s going to take some of the elements in there and build them back into your own connective tissue. So, maybe dulse is actually the bacon of the sea. I think we’ve got an entrepreneur idea here. If it’s not out there already, somebody go ahead and put that together. Bacon of the sea. Dulse products for everyone, yeah. Not that we need to commercialize everything.

Katja (11:55):
It doesn’t have the texture. It definitely doesn’t. But it very much has not the smoked part of bacon flavor. But the umami salty part of bacon flavor, it really has. And for folks who are vegetarian or vegan, this is really super important actually. Not just because it’s not always easy to get that kind of flavor without meat. Like from mushrooms you can.

Ryn (12:26):
You can do mushroom stuff. You can do seaweed stuff if you want that, yeah.

Katja (12:28):
Yeah, seaweed stuff will give you that flavor. But building that connective tissue, it becomes challenging with a vegan diet and a vegetarian diet. And so when there are plants that can help do that work, then it’s really important to emphasize those in the diet. Because they’re going to be filling that role.

Ryn (12:48):
Yeah. Yeah. You know, we were talking about this being a really good kind of beginner seaweed. It’s also a good seaweed for folks who are… Oh, how to say this? Okay. So, sometimes when we talk about seaweed people, like in Q&A time. We have these twice a week. We do a live Q&A session for everybody in our school. And a lot of times people are going to ask about seaweed and then immediately ask about the iodine content. Either because they want a bunch of iodine, and they’ve realized that seaweeds are a great place to get it. And they’re now asking what’s the best seaweed for the most iodine? Or the other question is wait, is this going to be too much iodine? If I eat a big handful of seaweed every single day, am I going to overstimulate myself or cause problems? It is potentially possible to take too much seaweed. And one way we can see that is by higher rates of hyperthyroidism and an unusual type of hyperthyroid goiter occurring in Japan, where of course they’re kind of famous for eating a lot of seaweed compared to most other places. But this is not an equal risk for all types of seaweed. And it’s also not something that most folks need to be really concerned about, especially because a lot of people are starting from a place of iodine deficiency.

Katja (14:04):
Right. It would take a long time. It would take a long time of eating a really large amount of seaweed daily to get all the way built up to where you had too much seaweed.

Ryn (14:16):
Yeah. And it’s very, very unlikely to do that with dulse. Because dulse compared to say, a strong iodine seaweed like bladderwrack. Dulse has a substantial amount compared to any land plant, but not at all the same degree of iodine content as bladderwrack has. So, if somebody was concerned about that, but they were interested in working with seaweeds as a nice demulcent herb, as an umami flavor in the food, as a provider of some cool polysaccharides that have these connected tissue supports and also some immune benefits we didn’t get to yet, then dulse would be a really good choice for them.

Thyroid Functioning & Immune Activity

Katja (14:54):
You know, since you mentioned all that, I want to take this opportunity to talk about folks who are taking thyroid medication like Synthroid or Levothyroxine, whatever. And so you’re in a hypothyroid situation. You’re medicated for it. And then you say oh, I’m going to start taking a bunch of seaweed. What’s going to happen? I’m going to start eating a bunch of seaweed in my food. What’s going to happen? So, at first nothing is going to happen, because it takes a while for the minerals to build up. And it’s important to also recognize it’s not just iodine. There are tons of critically important minerals, and they’re for your thyroid. Your thyroid doesn’t only need iodine. It needs lots of things.

Ryn (15:43):
They’re for your thyroid. They’re for your hypothalamus. They’re for your kidneys.

Katja (15:46):
They’re for everything, yeah.

Ryn (15:50):
Name a cell in your body. It needs some mineral content to function well. And hey, your nerves? Ooh.

Katja (15:54):
Yes. Oh my goodness, yeah. We should do a whole little bit on that. But okay, so at first nothing will happen. And then there will come a point, depending on how much you’re having every day. Like maybe you’re putting it in the broth or whatever. You might be making tea out of it. Ryn’s made some pretty tasty seaweed teas.

Ryn (16:15):
Yeah. You can sneak it in if you get enough complimentary flavors from other plants.

Katja (16:19):
Yeah. Or like a bunch of ginger.

Ryn (16:21):
Or not.

Katja (16:22):
That’ll do it, yeah. Okay. So, at first nothing will happen. And then after a few weeks or a few months, depending on how much you’re having, you will start to experience symptoms that you probably experienced when you first went on your thyroid med, and they were trying to get the dose correct. You will experience that the dose is wrong. And so it will feel like your dose is too high. And you’ll have that kind of buzzy type feeling. And what that means is that you are giving your thyroid the stuff that it needs to be able to function better. And so it is starting to function better. But because it’s starting to function better, that means that your thyroid is making more of what it should be making. And then your Synthroid or your Levothyroxine, whatever on top of it is actually now creating too high of a dose for you. And so if you are consistent with it, then what will need to happen is you’ll just have to go to your doctor and say oh, my dose needs to be adjusted. I’m feeling very buzzy. And they’ll just adjust that for you. I mean, even if you don’t take seaweed, that is a common thing to happen throughout your experience with thyroid meds anyway. And probably if you are taking them, you’re probably like ah, yes, I have experienced that. But so just to recognize that it is not dangerous to do it. It’s not harmful to do it. But it is going to have a period of discomfort when you’re going to have to go and have your dose adjusted.

Ryn (17:57):
Yeah. I had offhand mentioned some immune activities for seaweeds. And this is an area of ongoing research. And I usually talk about this in comparison to medicinal mushrooms. Because broadly speaking, the kind of constituents in the plants we’re focused on for this effect are similar between them. We’re talking about large, complex, technically carbohydrate molecules, right? We call them polysaccharides. And there have been found immunomodulatory effects from our seaweeds in a really similar way to what’s been much more publicized with the medicinal mushrooms. So, I continue to wait. But I won’t be surprised if in five years or sometime in the next decade, we see a sort of surge of interest in seaweed, and seaweed extracts, and seaweed products and stuff the way that we have seen with mushrooms in recent years.

Katja (19:00):
Much like mushrooms, avoid the products. Just put it in your soup. Just put it in your soup.

Ryn (19:05):
It is the best way to take these, yeah. That’s for sure.

Katja (19:07):
Yeah, just put it in your soup.

Ryn (19:09):
Yeah. And there’s another way in which the seaweeds and the mushrooms are similar. It’s that they’re not plants. This is algae. That’s a different kingdom of life, you know? Mushrooms are not plants either. They’re fungi. So, fungi and algae, they’re not plants. They’re not animals. They share some characteristics with each. The seaweeds maybe lean more toward plant than the mushrooms. I don’t know. They’re their whole other thing. But yeah, they do produce these things that you don’t find in planty plants, right, Plantae.

Katja (19:43):
Plantae plants, yeah. No, at this point I have little cartoons. They’re like a seaweed with googly eyes, and it’s dancing. And a mushroom with googly eyes, and it’s little cap is pulsing up and down. And it’s very humorous inside my brain right now is what I’m saying.

Ryn (20:09):
Yeah. With specific immune activities or related activities of the seaweeds – and this applies not just to dulse but a lot of the red seaweeds, including Irish moss and nori and other fun friends like that – they have been found effective topically against some virus families, most specifically with the herpes family. So, that’s herpes one or two or whatever, and also shingles.

Katja (20:34):
Yeah. One or two or both. At this point they’ve kind of like combined. And sometimes it’s very hard to even identify which of the two strains it is. And you can’t always tell by the location either.

Ryn (20:50):
Yeah, that’s not the answer there. But yeah, but also chickenpox, which apparently, I’ve recently been reminded of this. It used to be referred to as the Great Pox. Whereas the smallpox was like the small one. And that was in terms of severity. So, once upon a time chickenpox was the scary stuff, and smallpox was like we don’t worry about it. But that switched throughout recorded history.

Katja (21:13):
Well, because we stopped getting smallpox, and everybody used to get chickenpox. If you’re my age, you had chickenpox. And you stayed home from school for a week and ate popsicles. But these days the kids don’t all get it.

Ryn (21:28):
Yeah. But if we go back a thousand years or so, maybe the chickenpox were scarier at the time. In any case this whole family and shingles as well, it’s the same group. The seaweeds do seem to be quite helpful there. And the best way to go about this for our perspective would be topically, right? We’re going to take the dulse, right? We’re going to moisten it up with some probably warm water. It’s more pleasant.

Katja (21:55):
Warm water. It’ll feel better, yeah.

Ryn (21:56):
Yeah, right? And then if you’ve got lesions around the lips or wherever else on your body, then we can go ahead and lay this over that and just kind of let it sit there. Let it kind of soak in to the skin for a while. Half an hour at least, but longer might be better.

Katja (22:10):
So, this is something that I feel needs to kind of update traditional information. And by traditional, I mean herbalism in 1960s, early 1970s, United States. I don’t mean actual traditional herbalism. And so, you know, out of that era of herbalism, we get oh, lemon balm is good for herpes. Okay.

Ryn (22:37):
Lemon balm is the herpes herb.

Katja (22:39):
It’s the herpes herb. Lemon balm is helpful for herpes under specific situations. But the constituents that are helpful are also easily degradable. So, if you have dried lemon balm, it’s not nearly as effective. It really needs to be fresh. And honestly, I think that thyme is stronger. But I think that seaweed, the red seaweeds, is even stronger. And I also think that it’s probably more traditional. Like I just think what about all the people on the coast of Ireland for whom seaweed was a part of everyday life anyway. What did they do when they had a cold sore? Absolutely, they put seaweed on it, right? So, there’s nothing wrong with lemon balm if you love lemon balm for a cold sore. Keep doing it. That’s fine. But it’s one of those things that’s kind of tattooed on herbalist eyelids. Lemon balm for herpes. And so instead I want us to start thinking about or a thyme steam or even better red seaweeds. Yeah. And then the other place that I want to update some information is oatmeal for chickenpox, because you hear that all the time. And these days I think maybe kids these days don’t really get chickenpox very often. But you used to hear that all the time. When I was a kid, you heard calamine lotion. But there was a period where you would hear oatmeal all the time. And oatmeal has some problems. Yes, it is soothing and calming kind of, but it’s wicked messy and clogs up your bathtub if you put your kid in there with an oatmeal bath and whatever. But also a lot of people have sensitivity to gluten. And some people get away with what’s labeled as gluten-free oats, but not everyone. And wow, I could do like an entire hour here on why gluten-free oats are not exactly what we think they are. But instead just grab the whole Nutrition course, because I don’t want to derail us. But it’s all in there. Okay. But so a lot of people have sensitivity to oats even that are labeled gluten-free. And so, you could think like oh, well, it’s chickenpox, so I better put oat on it. Or you could just put red seaweeds on. Actually, I think it’s more effective. I think it’s easier to clean. You know, everybody has preferences about what is easier and better and all that stuff. But for me I think that seaweed is just easier. And you can wrap it up in a little bit of cheesecloth. And you can move it around. And you can hold it here for a while and then hold it there for a while. And oh, it’s itchy over here. Okay, we’ll hold it there for a while and whatever. You don’t even need a whole bath for it. So, when we think oatmeal for chickenpox, think oh, and also red seaweeds.

Ryn (25:44):
Yeah, right on. Okay.

Mineral Replacement & Nervous System Health

Katja (25:49):
Oh, hold on. You were talking about nervous system health.

Ryn (25:54):
Yes, right. I was trying to remember that as well.

Katja (25:58):
Yes. This is going to be really important and good.

Ryn (26:01):
This had come to mind when we were talking about iodine, and then you were talking about the other mineral content in the seaweeds. And, you know, with that one way to think about this is that humans have been doing industrialized agriculture on this planet for a while now. And you’ve probably heard about runoff as a problem here, right? Particularly runoff of phosphate fertilizers getting into the waterways, and especially collecting in delta areas. And causing algae blooms, and reducing the oxygen content, and killing off fish. And in some places, this is extremely severe and bad, but it’s not the only thing that’s running off. A lot of nutrients in the soil may be drawn up by the plants and then not put back into the dirt, okay? And then ultimately some of those are kind of lifted up to the surface, and they might run off in the rain.

Ryn (26:49):
Others are just taken up in the plant and eaten, but not replaced. Not put back in because of the way that industrial fertilizers tend to just be a few key nutrients, but not the full spectrum of actual nature, right? And so over time there’s some decent evidence that our major food supply, our commercial food crops, our industrial food crops have lost a fair amount of their mineral content over time. The question is, where did it go? Well, a lot of it has ended up into the water, into the oceans. And so the seaweeds, if nothing else, they’re in a position to pick up those nutrients and to put them into their tissues.

Katja (27:32):
And also, you know, the ocean is struggling like every other thing touched by man on this planet. But one thing that is not so bad for the ocean is that their mineral cycle is harder to disrupt. We can easily disrupt the mineral cycle with agriculture, because if you don’t put it back then it’s gone. If you don’t put them minerals back into the soil, it’s gone. But in the sea, animals are constantly dying, and falling to the bottom, and decomposing, and replenishing the mineral content. And there is this sort of closed cycle of life. Like even when the plants die, they fall right down, and they decompose, and they nourish the soil. So, the soil of the ocean and also the water of the ocean, the water of the ocean itself is not just salty. It’s not just sodium chloride that makes the ocean salty. It is a whole complex of all different minerals. So, all the sea plants are literally swimming in minerals. And so that at least is one thing that we have not depleted is the sort of mineral cycle of the ocean.

Ryn (28:50):
Yeah. So, the seaweeds, they’re rich in iodine, but also calcium, and magnesium, and trace elements like boron, and manganese, and fun stuff like that. They’ve got silica content. They’ve got a whole range of things. And that’s good for you, because you need them. Some of them are trace elements that you need for a particular kind of enzyme reaction in your body. Some of them we call them gross elements where you need large amounts. And you know about calcium. You know, about iron, stuff like that, right? Some of them are things like magnesium, where you hopefully know how important that is. But it’s involved in so many reactions in your system. And it’s really critical for nerve function and for muscle relaxation especially, right?

Katja (29:36):
Right. Muscles have two states, not one state, right? They contract, and then they have to relax. And relaxing is not necessarily the opposite of contracting, right? You have to let it go.

Ryn (29:49):
It’s an action of the tissue. It’s something that must be done, or it must occur. It doesn’t sort of just happen as default. If you’re not holding it tight, then it becomes relaxed. No, for a lot of folks tight is the default.

Katja (30:02):
Right. And if you are a person who’s really tense, and you went to bed tense, and you wake up in the middle of the night to pee, and you’re still tense. Then you know oh, relaxation does not happen automatically, just because I fell asleep. Nope. I’m still clenching my jaw. And I have my muscles up to my ears and all the other, you know, yeah.

Ryn (30:21):
Yeah. And magnesium deficiency can manifest as tremors, or shaking, or spasms, or restless leg, or other kinds of cramping, things like that that are hard to get away from. But even at the level of a nerve cell, like an individual nerve cell, the minerals are going to be really important.

Katja (30:38):
Oh my goodness, so important. So, we were just saying about how with muscles relaxation is not a default state. Okay, that’s true in your nerves as well. So, you get wound up in some kind of anxiousness or whatever. Maybe you’re feeling really hypersensitive to whatever’s going on around you. And like any little thing is setting you off, right? And you feel like it is super difficult to get your nerves to relax. And you feel like you’re just on this hair trigger for a really long time, and you can’t dial back your sensitivity, right? That sensitivity scale – whether it’s high or low or whatever, relaxed or tense – is intrinsically, inherently, importantly tied up with minerals. And magnesium is one of the really important ones there. Because the way that nerves pass messages from one nerve cell to the next nerve cell is that they actually get a charge. And they sort of transfer their charge from one cell to the next. And when you learned it in school, you sort of see this little electrical zap going from one cell to the next cell, right? And so we just think about that as something that just happens automatically like lightning. And we don’t think about if there’s static electricity, something had to create the static charge. It had to be you rubbing the balloon against your hair to build up the static charge and then like stick it to your friend’s shirt, right? So, you are the thing that created the charge. Well, what is it in the nerve cell that creates the charge that passes the message along? Its minerals. And magnesium is one of the really important ones there.

Katja (32:39):
And the reason that I’m really harping on the magnesium is because just like muscles, nerves do not relax automatically. They send a signal saying hey, something hurts. Hey, something hurts. Hey, something hurts. And they don’t automatically say oh, I sent my signal. Okay, I’m done. I can just relax now and wait for the next thing to happen. No, they are always in an active state. They’re actively sending a message or actively choosing to not send a message. And kind of like you when you have something to say, but it’s not very nice. And you are actively choosing to not say it out loud, right? Okay. Your nerve cells are just like that. They have to actively choose to not say something annoying. And I mean, it is the job of a nerve cell to be annoying. To say hey, stimulus, hey, something’s going on. And they have to choose to be like mmm, no one needs to know. I can be quiet about it. It’s fine, right? Okay. The way that they make the choice – to say actually no one needs to know about this. Everything’s fine. I can just be still – is magnesium. So, if you don’t have enough, it becomes really hard to come down out of a state of anxiousness. It’s normal to get anxious. It’s normal to get nervous about things or wound up a little bit. That’s normal for humans. It’s protective. But then we need to be able to come back down. And when we can’t come back down, then we get stuck in these states of anxiety. In order to come back down, we need to make sure we have all of the minerals that are required for our nerve cells to actively decide that they don’t need to send panic messages. Seaweed.

Ryn (34:25):
Seaweed. Yeah. And to kind of step back out a little bit, when we think about dulse. When we think about most of the seaweeds. What have we got all together, right? Okay. So, we’ve got the nutritive element. We’re feeding your body, feeding your nerves, feeding your bones. We’re feeding all of your systems. We’re allowing for this kind of relaxation. And when we think about these plants in terms of direct qualities, we see moistening, relaxing effects, cooling effects, like the ocean, right? It’s pretty cool in there. It’s flowing. It’s moving, right?

Katja (35:03):
It’s like you can kelp it up. If you’ve ever seen kelp in the tide, it’s just like slowly flowing, doing its little hula.

Ryn (35:13):
Yeah. And so the seaweeds are kind of like bringing in the earth element from the water world, right? They’re like the earth of the water there. And they carry those things into us. So, if you want to think in terms of elements and archetypes, that’s what I would start with.

Katja (35:30):
That’s nice. That’s really good.

Passionflower: An Amazing Beauty & Plant Relationships

Ryn (35:32):
Okay, let’s move on. Let’s talk about passionflower.

Katja (35:37):
Okay. So, if you have been an herbalist for a while, or if you haven’t, and you live somewhere that passionflower doesn’t grow like somewhere in the North. And you have never seen a passionflower plant. You have to stop right now and search on this flower. Search on Passiflora incarnata because it is such an amazing looking flower. It’s a flower that looks like it shouldn’t exist. It looks like what kind of crazy glitter fairy decided that this plant should have these swirly twirly bits everywhere. And it’s just phenomenal. It’s phenomenal looking. It’s just fantastic. And how can I get that crazy glitter fairy into my life? Like, seriously, you’re just going to look at it and be like this flower is amazing. And so you’ll see the picture. And you’ll be like whoa, that’s amazing. I can’t believe something like that exists in the world. But then if you go someplace in the south, and you just see one growing. And it happens to be in a little median strip of like crappy mulch and some kind of hedge at a rental car return place at an airport. And the hedge is just filled with these passionflower vines that are blooming just the way it looks like on the internet. It will blow your mind. Because you’re like this is a flower that looks so amazing that I can’t even believe that it exists. And it exists here in this crappy little bit of dirt that nobody cares about at all. And it’s just here being beautiful in between the rental cars. What?

Ryn (37:16):
It sort of looks like something you would have to hack your way into the jungle for a few days to go and see. But it’s just right there everywhere.

Katja (37:23):
It looks like the kind of thing that is not meant for human eyes. That it’s so amazing that it should live somewhere far away from humans that’s so hard to get to at the top of some mountain somewhere or something. Like who knows? Yeah.

Ryn (37:38):
Well, I’m curious actually what passionflowers look like under UV light. Because you said for human eyes, and I’m like well, what do they look like to the bees, right?

Katja (37:49):
I’m pretty sure it’s pretty amazing.

Ryn (37:50):
Okay. Yeah. Google photos on that people, because whoa. Maybe we should bring some passionflowers indoors and put them under black light because yeah.

Katja (38:00):
They’re pretty amazing.

Ryn (38:00):
That’s pretty cool. Okay. Well, this is mostly an audio format thing we’re doing here, so…

Katja (38:06):
I mean, unless you’re watching on YouTube. If you’re watching on YouTube, but whatever. We just search, just search for passionflower UV light. Yeah. And then look at the images and I think you’ll be like, whoa.

Ryn (38:18):
Yeah. Beauty is important, right? So, we’re not just saying this because it’s exciting or distracting or whatever. But beauty is important. And I think of that in a few ways. When you can hold the picture of a plant in your mind as you drink your tea or as you take it, that adds something to your experience. It’s hard to quantify. It might not be exactly the same for everybody. But if you pick this up as a practice, I’m a hundred percent sure that you will get some sense of what I’m talking about here. And you can also look at this another way. You can think about doing a plant sit meditation. We do have a former episode of our podcast – I’ll put a link in the show notes – where we had a plant sit meditation, kind of like a guided thing for you to go and just be with a plant. To tune in with all of your senses. To look at the plant, to see how it’s structured and built, and what its colors are. And to kind of devote a lot of attention to it that way. That alone is a really productive meditation. Productive, is that the word I want? Fruitful? I don’t know. Something.

Katja (39:25):
Fruitful. That’s not a bad word. Yeah. Productive in terms of you get a lot out of it. But fruitful might be the better word. Meaningful. It’s meaningful. Yeah.

Ryn (39:37):
Yeah, right.

Katja (39:38):
It really helps you deepen your relationship with the plant. And that does not sound very factual or bullet pointed to say deepen your relationship with a plant. But it is. It is also the factual and bullet point part of learning. It is…

Ryn (40:04):
We have relationships with plants, whether we acknowledge it or not. Like so many people have a very deep and complex relationship with coffee. And they might not think of it that way until suddenly coffee’s gone from their life, and now their heart is broken. And it’s just … hard to deal with that that, right? But it can be like that with any plant.

Katja (40:22):
Right. And so if you think about if you think about just really knowing inside your body how it feels when you work with a plant, that’s a deep relationship and just being super aware of it. So anyway, plant sits can really help to increase your knowledge of a plant across many different spectra.

Ryn (40:51):

Katja (40:52):

Ryn (40:53):
Well, go ahead.

Katja (40:54):
Speaking of Spectra, I want to go back to the UV thing. I do for just one minute. Because we got onto the UV thing, because I was saying about for human eyes. And you were saying oh, what does it look like to bugs? And then we got blown away by the beauty of the UV pictures, what it looks like to bugs. But I just want to take a minute and remind us that plants are not for people. They’re not here for us to use. Plants have their own lives, their own everything. And if we were not here, they still would be. So, as herbalist, it’s pretty easy to get into thinking about, well, what is that good for? What is the benefit of that? And to have all that be very human-centric. And the reality is that plants have deep and intricate lives that have nothing to do with humans. Including all kinds of ultraviolet light markings that they produce on their flowers, specifically for the purpose of communicating with bugs. They make all of these intricate designs that literally create these arrows for bugs that say get the pollen here. And so that the bugs will go and pollinate, and fertilize all the flowers, and help make the seeds, and all that stuff.

Ryn (42:18):
Come get it bees. Good stuff this way.

Katja (42:20):
Yeah. It’s literally like if you are in an airplane, and your airplane is landing. And the person on the tarmac who has the orange light things. And they’re waving them, and crossing them, and making the different shapes. It is literally that painted all over the flower petals. And to me, taking time – not a minute, like a lot of time – taking a lot of time to really think about what that means, and how that requires me to change my speech. And change my entire thinking about plants, and what they’re here for, because they’re not here for us. It’s great that we can have relationships with plants. It’s great that plants can help us. Many of those things are great. But plants are here for plants. And when you start to think that way, it also changes your relationship with plants. It changes your ideas about foraging, and wild harvesting, and gardening, and growing, and language just changes so many things. And it took me a long time to learn all that. So, now I love to bring it up whenever possible.

Ryn (43:31):
What’s kind of funny is that if it’s hard for you to access these kinds of states of open observation and a calm, relaxed state of just being present with something for a little while. Well, passionflower can help you get there.

Katja (43:44):

Ryn (43:46):
So, you might find it helpful to take some passionflower tincture and then go sit with some passionflower plants to experience this in some fullness.

A Sedative to Slow the Spinning

Katja (43:56):
Yeah. Okay. So, the reason for that is because we get our brains all so full of things, and they get spinning around with all the things that we’re full of. And it’s like oh, I’ve got to do the thing. Oh, also this thing. Oh, I’ve got to do that. I have to go here and pick up the thing. And passionflower really helps to just stop the spinning and allows us to be present in the moment. And now we’re back to the plant. Because if you look at this amazing plant that looks like it’s the most amazing plant ever, it also kind of looks like a carousel. But it’s a carousel that isn’t moving. It’s just still there. It’s just quiet and still. And so when your brain feels like a carousel. And you’re like I’m trapped on this carousel that I cannot get off. That’s passionflower. When you feel like forget it, I can’t meditate. Yeah.

Ryn (44:55):
Yeah. You know, we do use the word sedative for this plant, but in herbalism that doesn’t mean knocks you out. And I say that even though this is an herb that has a pretty good reputation as a sleep herb and turns up in a lot of sleep formulas. So, if you go to the herbal aisle in a shop, or you go to an herb shop itself, you’ll see a lot of sleep formulas that include passionflower. But this isn’t going to knock you out if you’re decently rested. If you’re very sleep deprived. And you’re kind of just gritting your teeth and like trying to hold on and get through your day. And then you take a bunch of passionflower. It might make that exhaustion much more palpable for you. And that would be the case where it makes you feel sleepy. But if you’re pretty well rested, and you’re just humming right along. Maybe you’re feeling a little agitated, a little anxious, a little overstimulated. Then passionflower is fantastic for calming that down. And in the body the way this is happening, at least part of how this is happening anyway, is through quieting down nerve activity. You know, nerves, like we were saying before, they’re always either sending a signal or holding back a signal. And when they’re sending their signal, it’s not like they do it, and it’s kind of sustained. Like ahhhhhhhhhhhh, right? It’s like wrup…..wrup…..wrup. Or if you’re agitated like wrupwrupwrupwrupwrup. So, this is called the nerve firing rate.

Katja (46:19):
The yappy dog nerve rate.

Ryn (46:21):
Okay, totally. Elsie’s going to knock at the door in a second. But yeah, the passionflower and other herbal sedatives like this, they slow down those nerve firing rates. And for you, the experience of that is okay, my mind is a little calmer. I’m not quite as irritated by every little annoyance that’s around me. I find it perhaps easier to stay focused on one thing, because it’s not like everything else is pinging me constantly and taking my attention away to it. Yeah. So, you know, this is an herb that we’ve worked with a lot, because our practice has primarily been in cities, and with a lot of tech workers, and a lot of people with high stress jobs, and a lot to do, and not a lot of time to get it done in. And that leads to that feeling of internal pressure, and I have to do things. And there’s this rising heat and everything. And passionflower can calm that down, but again, without making you feel tired, or making you feel sluggish, or dulling your mind, or anything like that.

Katja (47:24):
I think that one of the reasons that passionflower is so associated with sleep – and so people might think oh, I can’t take it during the day. It’ll make me sleepy – is because a lot of times during the day you may be really stressed out. But you’re also really busy. There’s so many things going on, and you are trying to just please not forget that you have to go pick up the whatever from the place. And you’re doing all the things you have to do. And the day is fast and busy, and there’s so much stimulus, so much input all of the time. And then you lay down in bed at night. And it’s maybe the first quiet moment that you’ve had all day. And so your mind suddenly is just flooded with feelings of all the things that you are feeling concerned and worry for. But you didn’t have time to think of them during the day, because there was so much distraction going on. And so now it’s like the point of the day when you can sleep, and you can’t sleep, because you suddenly are worried about everything. And you’re just like oh my goodness, what about this thing? What about that thing? I didn’t get this done today. And like climate change. Oh my goodness.

Ryn (48:50):
Maybe a little personal insight there on what keeps you up at night, yeah?

Katja (48:56):
Ah, the debt ceiling. I don’t know.

Ryn (48:58):
But this is like a windy, hot, agitated mental state, right? There’s movement. There’s that excitation. There’s that agitation. What we need is to cool you down and calm and soothe that. Try to ground you a bit. We can we consider this to be one of the herbs that’s really helpful for grounding an aggravated, airy state of mind, right? You’re breezing about in the clouds. You’re getting pushed from one perspective to another. You’re not really in control of what’s going on. You’re kind of buffeted by the breezes and all of that. And we want to get grounded. We want to get settled.

Katja (49:35):
And you’re kind of like if I just could do that, I’d be able to sleep. If I could just settle my mind, but it won’t stop. Okay, passionflower can help.

A Note on Harmala Alkaloids

Ryn (49:45):
Maybe just a brief mention, and I’m really only saying this because people ask me sometimes. In this plant there are some constituents called harmala alkaloids. And ooh, that sounds pretty exciting, right? They’re similar to what’s found in a plant called Syrian rue: Peganum harmala. And in Syrian rue they’re there in a pretty strong concentration. That’s a plant that can have pretty serious interactions with psychiatric meds because of the presence of these constituents. They’re psychoactive. And even that plant can have its own psychoactive effects on you, if you take a substantial dose. Because similar constituents are also found in passionflower, you often see people saying that it is just as likely to have drug interactions, or to be potentially problematic, or to get you high, or to do other things along those lines. And the fact of the matter is that that’s just not the case. Because even though they’re present, remember it’s not just whether a plant has something in it. It’s how much is there, and how relevant that is to the form and the dose that you’re going to take. So, when we’re talking about cups of passionflower tea. When we’re talking about passionflower tincture in doses of a few dropperfuls at a time or something along these lines. These alkaloids are essentially irrelevant. They’re contributing surely in a minor way to the effect of the plant. But they’re not reaching that level where we’re going to get anxious if somebody’s taking a pharmaceutical to help them to feel calm or to deal with their anxiety. It’s okay to have passionflower in addition to that. And again, with the kind of doses and formats that I’m talking about here, it is possible in this level of technological advancement for somebody to make a passionflower extract and to say I’m going to potentize this.

Katja (51:43):
They could do that. They could.

Ryn (51:44):
I’m going to make it strong. I’m going to make it super concentrated. I’m going to emphasize the alkaloids.

Katja (51:49):
I’m going to get into my laboratory, and I’m going to… yeah. You can’t do that in your kitchen. But a nutraceutical company could do that in a laboratory, yeah.

Ryn (51:57):
Right. So, speaking from the perspective of tea and tincture, I’m not concerned about those kinds of drug interactions for this plant. We get into those weird supplements, yeah, maybe. All right. Yeah. So, this might be a slight stretch but as we were talking here, and I was thinking about passionflower as like grounding. And you look at the plant, and it’s an airy plant, right?

Katja (52:25):
It looks like it can fly.

Ryn (52:26):
There’s airspace in the plant, between the tendrils on the outside edges and everything. It looks like it will just sort of start spinning and float up into the sky.

Katja (52:34):
Mm-Hmm. It does.

Ryn (52:35):
You know, and it’s this twining vine that wants to climb things, but it has that really grounding element to it. So, if dulse was like earth from water, then passionflower might be an earth of air type of plant.

Katja (52:47):
I do not think that’s a stretch. I think that’s a stoop. I think it’s lovely.

Ryn (52:52):
A little poetry for you, a little metaphor. A little elementalism perhaps, but all right. Maybe we got there after all.

Katja (52:59):
I think we did. I think so.

Ryn (53:01):
Cool. All right. Before we go, I wanted to just highlight something for you. Today I want to talk about our course on Holistic Help for Better Sleep. Okay. For only $25 you can get all of our most actionable information about how to improve your sleep. So, do you have trouble falling asleep when you lay down? Do you have midnight waking? Herbs can help. And passionflower is a really key player in that course. We talk about it probably in every video along with skullcap, and betony, and wild lettuce, and a whole bunch of other great friends for this. So, you can rebuild your circadian rhythm. You can recover from sleep debt. And you can even wake up feeling good in the morning. Wow, imagine that.

Katja (53:44):
Yeah, you can wake up like you want to wake. You know, I actually would like to be awake. This is actually… I’m ready for this day.

Ryn (53:51):
Yeah. Just like every course with us, you get live Q&A sessions twice a week. You get integrated discussion threads right there in each lesson, so you can ask a question and get a response within a day. You get lifetime access to all of the course material and any updates we make in the future. You get quick guides, PDFs you can download, action prompts to help you make this real in your life, and more than that too. So, you can find that one and all of our courses at online.commonwealthherbs.com. Okay. That’s it for us this week. We’ll be back next time with some more Holistic Herbalism podcast. Until then take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. Drink some tea.

Katja (54:32):
Drink some tea.

Ryn (54:33):
And dream of seaweed.

Katja (54:36):

Ryn (54:38):
Yes. Calvin it up over here.

Katja (54:41):

Ryn (54:42):
All right. Bye everybody.

Katja (54:44):


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