Podcast 219: Herbs A-Z: Solidago & Stachys
Today we proceed further along our shelves, looking at the herbs we keep in our home apothecary. In this episode we discuss goldenrod and wood betony.
When using the botanical Latin name for goldenrod, we write Solidago spp. – that “spp.” means “species plural”; there are many varieties in the genus. It can hard to tell them apart! Fortunately, your senses can tell you about the particular actions of your particular goldenrod. Is it more bitter? That’ll have more digestive action. Is it more aromatic? That’ll really get you kidneys moving. It’s also worth trying goldenrod leaf-only vs flower-only tea or tincture.
Betony, also called wood betony, is Stachys officinalis. It’s related to lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina), but nowhere near as fuzzy, and with smaller, scallop-edged leaves. An herb with a panoply of benefits, in modern people we find its most important attributes are its grounding and centering effects. These can help us oppose the habits of multitasking and dissociation from the body which are so prevalent today. It’s also a very easy herb to grow in a pot on your portch!
Mentioned in this episode:
- episode 077: Urban Wildcrafting Ethics & Guidelines
- episode 195: How To See Stress In Wild Plants
- episode 113: Grow Your Own Herbs
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Hi, I’m Katja.
And I’m Ryn.
And we’re here at Commonwealth Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.
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Well, today our travel through our shelves of herbs has led us to Solidago and Stachys, also known as goldenrod and betony. And this time we can look out of our window, and we can see those plants blooming.
Yeah. It’s kind of amazing.
That hasn’t always happened in this series, but it’s really nice.
Yeah. Wood betony has this really brilliant purpley pink, kind of like cotton candy tuft of flowers at the top. And of course, goldenrod has this bright spray of deep yellow flowers. And so it’s funny because they kind of look like the colors that are commonly associated with the holiday Easter, but it’s not the right time of year for that. Pink and yellow are kind of springy sorts of colors. And this is like late season color. But it’s just so beautiful.
Yeah. I’m probably going to keep glancing over there through the window today. That particular goldenrod is really sun-saturated, and gorgeous, and draws the eye. So, yeah. Those are going to be our two plants today. Before we jump into that, we just want to remind you all that our podcast is only one of the things we do. We’re primarily teachers, and we have an online herb school.
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There we go. Yeah. That’s the best way. That’s the best way for sure. All right. So, here comes the reclaimer. That’s where we remind everybody that we’re not doctors. We’re herbalist and holistic health educators.
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.
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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 and experiment with further.
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Goldenrod: Solidago spp., Aerial Parts, & Wild Harvesting
Yeah. Absolutely. All right. So, let’s start off with goldenrod. So, yeah. When you write the name of your plant, and you’re writing a little herbal article or whatever, you want to put both names, right? You want to give the common name, and you want to give the botanical name. And for goldenrod what we do is we write Solidago spp., and that means species, plural. Because with goldenrod there are a lot of species, and some of them are really hard to tell apart from each other. But the nice thing is that as far as your herbalism is concerned, I don’t want to say it doesn’t matter, but you are going to be able to tell the qualities of your particular golden rod by your senses.
All of the goldenrods have medicinal efficacy, but over time you will develop favorites. The, the one thing about goldenrod is that it is not super easy to purchase. This is a plant that you kind of do need to harvest yourself. There are sometimes you can purchase it. I think Healing Spirits Farm in New York is the only one I’ve ever seen grow it, but that’s probably changing.
Sometimes shops have it and it’s mostly leaf.
Well, that’s the other thing.
Which is fine. The leaf is actionable. All the aerial parts of the plant are what we work with. Aerial parts is everything above the soil.
The actions of the leaves and the actions of the flowers are not the same. But that is kind of the same thing about how it varies a little bit from species to species. It’s because different phytochemicals are concentrated in different amounts in the leaves versus in the flowers. And so depending on what kind of work you’re trying to do, you might want the leaves or you might want the flowers. And also, depending on the kind of work you are trying to do, you might want one plant over another. And today the tea that we have is a lymphatic base blend that I’ve been drinking a lot of lately: self-heal and calendula and red clover. And then there’s wood betony and goldenrod in here to keep it on theme. And the goldenrod that I have right now that I harvested last year is not actually my favorite. And I’m going to tell this story because I want you to know what it kind of feels like to go out and harvest it yourself. That’s sometimes intimidating for people to do the first time. So, I kind of want you to have a little feel for how that goes.
Yeah. Goldenrod is a great herb to get started with though, in terms of wildcrafting, for many reasons. One is that it’s easy to find. It’s easy to identify. It’s not going to have deadly lookalikes in whatever region you may be. You can harvest without harming the organism. You can just clip off, you know, six or eight inches of flowers off of the top, a bit of leaf along with that, and leave the rest growing. No problem. But also, you’re not going to overharvest goldenrod. There’s so much of it everywhere. It’s a weed. So, for all these reasons it’s an excellent choice.
Yeah. So, when you’re harvesting, just always make sure that you don’t take all of the flowers from any given plant. Leave half the flowers on the plant or more than half if that is the right thing to do there.
Your local bees will thank you.
The bees will thank you, but also that means that the rest of the flowers that you leave behind can reproduce, and make seeds, and be next year’s goldenrod. And again, all the usual caveats with wild harvesting. And we did a whole episode about that, and probably he even remembers the number.
Ooh, uh, it’s in there somewhere.
But there will be a link in the show notes, because he always is really good about putting those in. And so definitely I think that even if you’ve listened to that episode about wildcrafting, listen to it again. Because it is really important that we are much more careful about wildcrafting than is usually taught. And even in the community today, somebody was mentioning that they saw their first ever ghost pipe. And they had no intention of harvesting it, and they just were so grateful to see it. Because knowing that that plant is so endangered. And then she mentioned that on TikTok she sees everybody talking about it and talking about working with it. And nobody is mentioning that that plant is very extremely at risk or endangered depending on where you are located. And she was so distraught that it’s a plant with such precarity. And that people are just out kind of willy-nilly talking about it.
Grabbing it by the buckets, you know?
Aromatics, Varieties, & Saponins
Yeah, please don’t. So, a good reason not to learn herbalism from TikTok, I guess. But anyway. So okay, but goldenrod is a good place to start because it is an extremely abundant plant, and it reproduces very easily. So, those things are really great. But okay, so I wanted to talk about this batch of goldenrod that I have right now. First off, I drastically prefer the flowers for goldenrod over the leaves. The flowers have a lot more of the aromatic actions. So, that’s the volatile oil content. And that is going to change the focus of the work that the plant is doing. Whereas the leaves really concentrate the bitter aspects. So, you’re still going to get kidney support from the leaves for absolutely sure. But you’re also going to get a lot more digestive action from that bitterness.
Right. Goldenrod is kind of famous as a diuretic, as an anti-inflammatory for the kidneys, as an herb that can be helpful for the urinary system kind of broadly as a result of those impacts. But yeah, sometimes you take your goldenrod. And you’re like this is a digestive bitter. This is going to get my juices flowing. Yeah, this is great.
Yeah. And then in the flowers there’s more of the volatile oil content. There’s more of the urinary antiseptic action. There’s still that kidney support, but a little more on the antiseptic side, a little more on the UTI-fighting side of things, and also more of the vulnerary action. Solidago, the word means to make whole. And it has very potent vulnerary effects. And so if you are thinking about epithelial damage in the GI tract because you were eating a bunch of food allergies, or because you recently had covid, or all the different reasons.
There are plenty of reasons.
There are so many reasons, right. Then this would be a really good choice there. But I prefer to focus on the flowers for that. Okay, great. The flowers, they’re less bitter and more aromatic. But here’s the thing. From species to species, they also vary. And so last year we were going to be moving. And I knew that that was going to make it hard for me to harvest some things. And I had this stand of goldenrod that was a very early blooming stand. It was blooming full bloom in June. And I thought wow, I better harvest this now. And I never do that. I always harvest very, very late in the summer, because – I don’t know – I just always do.
Just been in the habit.
Yeah. The species that I normally have access to blooms very late in the summer. But this other one that I saw was blooming in June, and it looked beautiful. It was super abundant. There was tons and tons of it. It was in an area that was going to be mowed anyway. So, I was like this is perfect. This is the perfect place to gather. And I gathered it. And it’s very effective and very bitter. All the volatiles are there but super bitter. And I also feel like it has a much higher saponin content than late season goldenrod.
You’re getting some bubbles in your tea?
Yeah, more bubbly.
So saponins are kind of what they sound like, right? They’re soap-like behavior inside of your infusions and stuff. So, if you have an herb with some saponin content, and you put it in water, and then shake it up a bit, you’ll see the bubbles form there. Goldenrod doesn’t usually have a lot. We’re not saying it’s like jiaogulan or something like that. But there’s some in there.
Yeah. And definitely enough to bubble up and make it kind of a little foamy like beer when you very first pour it. Especially if you’re pouring it from something under pressure. We usually are making it in one of those vacuum Air-Pots. And so it kind of like vacuums it up the little straw and spits it out the spout. And the spout is kind of small, so that puts it under a little bit of pressure and makes it a little bubblier. But we’ve been using that for years and years, and this batch is bubblier than previous batches. So, okay, that’s fine. All of that is information about the phytochemical content of this particular species of goldenrod. And I like it quite a bit, but it is bitter. And so if you’re out… Normally when I talk about goldenrod flowers, I talk about them being sweet like honey, and so delicious, all this stuff. And if you go out, and you just get the leaves, you’ll be like wow, Katja. This is not delicious. What are you thinking? But also, if you go out and harvest some other species that is not the species that I normally harvest it late in the summer. You might also feel like I don’t know what Katja thinks is sweet and delicious, but it’s not this. And that’s okay. That is the plant, the different species of the plant showing you the variation of its phytochemical makeup. Which is actually amazing if you think of it.
Yeah. And it’s kind of cool. And sometimes it’s not like they’re all growing in clusters. Like you might find several of them mixed together. I often see this along the Charles River when I do herb walks there in Boston. And you’ll find the grass leave Solidago. And you’ll find the ones that are kind of more like the canadensis, the kind we see frequently. But yeah, they can be right next to each other. And it’s good then to say like, all right. Well, I’m going to sample a little of this flower, and I’m going to sample a little of that flower, and see how they compare. And have a mix or pick the one you like best. Do what you do. But it is good to work with your senses in that way. To say all right, well, you’re goldenrod. But what kind of goldenrod are you?
Yeah, exactly. So, the canadensis is the one that I like best. But there are so many. And sometimes you can’t id it all the way because there are so many species. And you could say well, this is either this one or that one. But they look so close to each other that it’s hard to tell. But none of them are poisonous. So, none of them have any toxicity. They all have medicinal action. So that’s really good.
An Honorary Nervine That Helps With Trudging
Yeah. Okay. With goldenrod, one thing that we often observe is that it’s not just about physical activity in your kidney and that kind of thing. That’s critical. That’s important, right? But it’s not the only thing. Goldenrod is one of these plants that we say is like an honorary nervine. Because it doesn’t seem to be directly impacting nerve states in a very noticeable way, the way say betony does. And we’ll talk about that here. But goldenrod, it’s more like okay. I’m feeling a little less bogged down. I’m feeling a little better able to keep on moving. Yeah.
I’m pretty excited to be talking about goldenrod today, because today is a very bogged down day for me. My whole body feels just like I’m moving through molasses.
Some fluid heaviness with the heat and the humidity we’ve had.
Yeah. And, you know, okay, a little too much information here. Menstruation, it’s not super fun. But if you get like that when you’re menstruating. If you get heavy and boggy, especially in perimenopause. I mean, especially anytime actually, but perimenopause is relevant to me, so right now…
It’s kind of where you’re at. No, but this one has always been something you want to include when you’re like I’ve got a lot of fluid heaviness down in my pelvic region.
Yeah, exactly. There’s just a lot of movement in goldenrod. And very specifically there is movement through heaviness. And so when I’m working with goldenrod as a nervine, having nothing to do with whatever else is going through my body physiologically. But really just thinking about it in terms of emotional health. We always use the word to trudge. Like when you are just trudging through just the same muck again. And it’s miserable and terrible, and you just have to keep going. Then goldenrod is just such an uplifting herb for when you’re having those kinds of emotions. You may not actually be trudging through anything, but emotionally that’s how you feel.
Check it out: Solidago. More like soldier on…go!
That is what it’s like. Yeah. That is what it’s like. You know, and it has…
But it’s not a nervous system stimulant. We’re not talking about caffeine, right? If anything, it is a stimulant. But it’s like a fluid movement stimulant in the body. And again, come back to that kidney activity, right? Drain the excess wastes. Keep the inner waters clean, and beautiful, and flowing, and all of that, right? That’s the kind of stimulation that this brings. But sometimes that can reach your mind, that can reach your emotions. We don’t find that surprising as herbalist. That’s sort of baked into the art. But a lot of times trying to explain that to somebody. Like no, I understand that you’re tired. But I don’t want to give you straight up stimulant herbs. I don’t think rhodiola is the right choice. That kind of thing, yeah.
What do we need to stimulate? What needs to move in the body? Find that and you’ll be in a good spot.
Yeah. I just think about Ukraine actually, because also it has that beautiful golden yellow color on the Ukrainian flag.
Yeah. It’s that yellow.
Yeah. And if you think about the gift you want to give to Ukraine right now. It is the gift of just keep going. Just keep going. You can do it. And when you’re feeling like that, that’s goldenrod.
Betony: Stachys Varieties & Grounding
Okay. Well, let’s turn to betony then. Let’s talk about Stachys. Stachys officinalis, also known as Stachys betonica. Also known as Betonica officinalis, depending on how far back you look into your herbal shelf.
Yeah. And Stachys, often we do just say Stachys.
I guess you could say Stachys if you want to.
Yeah, you probably could.
We could do the really German one, like Stachys.
But that would be wrong. It wouldn’t be right.
It wouldn’t be German, yeah.
No, it wouldn’t be right. So, when we talk to each other about Stachys, it’s always wood betony. But it’s important to recognize that there are a bunch of other Stachys family plants that you might see in a garden. They’re very common, actually. One is lamb’s ears, and then there’s another one.
Stachys byzantina, like lamb’s ears.
Yeah. Oh my goodness.
It’s so fuzzy. It’s great.
It’s called Lamb’s ears. And yes. But a very lovely woman named Emmy works with us. If you’ve ever emailed us, Emmy might have replied.
Yes, thank you so much, Emmy. And Emmy also helps us answer the discussion threads. And so I was at her garden last week. And she was giving me lots of blue vervain and boneset and other wonderful things. And I was very excited about it. But she had a lot of lamb’s ears, just because it’s an amazing plant. And it had just rained. And they looked like a cat’s tongue. They looked like that.
Because it was covered with little water droplets.
Yeah. The little water, yeah, exactly. So, anyway, it’s an amazing plant and also has medicinal tradition as well. But here we are talking about it has kind of delicate leaves. Sort of the same like nettle or dandelion, like leaves you can tear pretty easily. Lamb’s ear, you can’t tear those leaves very easily.
There’s a tiny bit of fuzz on betony, but not anything like lamb’s ears.
No, nothing like that. And the leaves are very scallopy, like, like a valentine decoration. Something like that, like very, very scallopy.
On the edges.
And then there’s just this cut. The leaves are at the bottom. There’s a very tall stalk with maybe a couple of tiny leaves. And then this tuft of cotton candy at the top that are the flowers. So, that’s the one, and it’s tall. It’s taller than knee high, and I’m six feet tall. So that might be taller than thigh high for some people.
But yeah. It’s just a brilliant, wonderful, beautiful plant.
Yeah. It’s really lovely to have betony with you. And you can grow it in a pot on your porch. It’s going to handle that easy. It’s in the mint family, so it’s pretty resilient in terms of conditions and sun exposure. And did I forget to water you, you know, and stuff like that. Be kind to your betony, please. But you know, it can hang. For many years there was an in-person herbal conference in Boston called Herbstalk. And we would go, and we would set up a table, and talk to people about our school, and present classes and everything. And from the very first year we made a habit of bringing a live betony plant in a pot and having it there with us. And, you know, you do the conference, and you have to talk to… You get to talk to… You can tell my introvert is there, right? You get to talk to a few hundred people in a day.
Or even they would have a thousand people come through. But, you know, everybody would go to class for like an hour. And then there would be 20 minutes to walk around and see all the things. And so there’d be like a thousand people just all at once.
They come in these wave. And it’s like oh, okay. There’s lots of buzzing in the air and energy’s really up. And both of us would notice where subconsciously we would wander next to the betony as we’re talking to somebody and start petting it. Just kind of like stroking the flowers or leaves and sniffing the flowers. And being like okay, this, this herb is calling me for that groundedness that betony can offer. That’s sort of its key thing. Most people when they talk about beany, they’re going to go right to that. Like oh, it, it grounds you mentally. And you’ll hear discussions of like okay, there’s some digestive activity, a little slight bitterness, some wound healing in the gut, some movement in there, some fluid movement down in the abdomen and everything. But the effects on your mind and your brain and your head generally, they really stand out, especially in modern populations.
Antidote to Multitasking & Temporal Dissociation
Yeah. You know, I feel like betony is the antidote to multitasking. Well, humans don’t multitask very well. And it’s so bad because on one hand we don’t multitask well, but we are pushed to do it constantly. And so we try. But then when you try to stop multitasking after you’ve been doing it for a long time, you get withdrawal from multitasking. And so both it’s uncomfortable to try to multitask. Like trying to talk to somebody, and type something, and scroll on your phone all at the same time. You can’t do all that, but we all try to do it.
Yeah. What you’re really doing is task switching on a short schedule. I’m doing this now. I’m doing this now. I’m doing this now. It sort of works, but it’s not ideal. Especially for certain kinds of work, right, like writing an emotionally charged email to a friend. Or trying to do some deep research or hold a lot of complex concepts in your mind while you form them into something workable. That’s hard to do when you’re getting bounced over into a totally different frame.
Yeah. And so then when you say wow. I’m going to try not multitasking. I’m going to try long focus, like deep focus. I’m going to try just for the next half hour, just work on this one thing and not check my email, or my phone, or anything. And when you try to do that, it kind of hurts. It’s very hard to do. And there’s like this feeling of withdrawal where more and more you feel like the pull of your phone or the pull of whatever it is that you feel the need to check. And that is not something that you’re imagining. That’s actually like brain chemical action happening in your head. Fun dopamine. And so I don’t have a lot of data about specific actions of wood betony on dopamine or other neurotransmitters, and I don’t actually need it. I’m not that kind of herbalist. It’s interesting, and that’s fun. But it isn’t necessary for me to do my job. But what you see very clearly is the ability to feel much calmer when you are trying to – actually feel much calmer all the time – when you’re trying to come out of that fast switching kind of thought process. And come back into a place of deep focus or at least sustained focus, even if it’s only for 10 or 20 minutes at a time. Betony really helps with that discomfort. And that discomfort is almost like it is pulling your energy up through your head, trying to pull it out of you. And betony is like no, no. You can just keep this here. It’s all right. We don’t need to attend to that pull. It’s okay to just stay inside here.
It’s kind of amazing. And it’s helpful for all kinds of dissociative emotional states. And actually I kind of feel like all kinds of dissociative states are becoming more and more common. But that one in particular, like that particular feeling that it’s hard to put into words, but maybe you’ve experienced it. Of that discomfort of I just want to not check social media or whatever it is that you check for this whole day. I just want to focus on this book that I’m trying to finally read or whatever. And that feeling in your mind of the gears kind of grinding every time that you get that little impulse to go check.
Yeah. And look, I mean, we never want to overstate anything. Okay. That said, if what we’re talking about here sounds like it’s connected to addiction, then you’re not wrong. And we’ve helped some folks deal with addiction and try to step away from things. And the whole range of them, right? I’m talking from sugar, to pornography, to various drugs and recreational substances and things like that. And I think in pretty much all of them we’ve put together a nice nervine blend, and it’s definitely included betony.
Yeah. It always has betony,
Because with betony you can say grounding. You can say okay, get the energy out of your head and bring it to your solar plexus. And for some people that has like a oh, I know what that feels like, that movement. But sometimes the disconnect people are having is temporal in nature. They’re caught up in regrets and worries, or habits from the past that they’re trying to change, or trying to grow out of. Or trying to, you know, just get over sometimes is all you really trying to do. Or you also see people who are kind of thrown into the future all the time. Like I’m super focused on that thing that I’m going to achieve someday. Or I’m worried about the future for plenty of good reasons, right? Here we are in the year 2023. There’s problems on the planet, and we’ve all noticed, right? But yeah, it’s easy to get thrown into that state of mind. And everything from to not appreciate the beauty of the sunset that’s here now, all the way over to being unable to focus on your work, or to get things accomplished, or to enjoy the presence of people who are there with you. And those feel like they have more serious consequences than oh, I didn’t notice the sunset, you know? But we could make an argument about it, I guess. But yeah, betony helps to bring you temporarily into the moment, into you, into here and now.
Wow. I’m really grateful that you said that. And I sort of as you were saying it, I’m thinking about there’s that sort of dissociative, I don’t feel comfortable in my body that like, kind of pulls you up out through your head. But then that temporal that is sort of like, you know, either… You can’t see my hands because this is a podcast.
We’re gesturing like forward and backward.
Yeah. And like where you feel, and sometimes you can really feel this physically. Where you’re like I have to get this thing done. And you’re like but I also said yesterday I would do this other thing. And you’re like and I just need to sit down for a minute. And you feel like you’re stuck between these different temporal states. Each one of them you feel like you should belong in or you long to belong in. But none of them are the moment that you actually are in. Yeah.
Sell Your Coat & Buy Betony
There’s this old adage, which is often attributed to Italians generally or sometimes to a particular author or another. But it’s sell your coat and buy betony. And I think about that, because that comes from a long time ago, right?
I feel like that’s a medieval kind of…
A decent long time ago, yeah. You can tell. Anyway. But I feel like that gets more and more true every year. I do want people to have coats, you know, especially here in New England.
I don’t know. It’s getting warmer and warmer maybe.
Yeah. Either we’re going to get 12 feet of snow this winter or none. And we won’t know until it happens.
Anyway, keep your coat. You need a coat.
Here we go. This won’t really work, but it’s like an aspirational thing. Sell your iPhone and grow some betony.
I knew you were going to say that.
Sell your iPhone and grow some betony.
What about everybody who’s listening to this podcast on their iPhone?
You can keep your phone. It’s okay. Just go out and be with betony.
Yeah. That’s really what we care about more than the other part, yeah.
It’s really easy to grow. If you are a person who’s like I don’t feel really comfortable gardening. I don’t have a lot of experience with living plants. It does need to grow outside. It won’t grow in your house. But it will tolerate lots of different amounts of sun or shade. It will tolerate like a big wide variation in water. It will tolerate crappy soil.
Yeah. This soil around us has a decent amount of acids in it from the conifers in the forest. But it’s fine. And you know, like some of these came straight from a garden. Which had been maintained for like 40 years in that place, and was super rich, and black earth, and everything. But the betony transitioned just fine. No trouble.
Some of the betony in Emmy’s garden last week was even up to my hip. Some of it was just amazing. So, I mean, if you give it happy compost and all that amazing stuff, it’s going to become enormous. But even in whatever you happen to have in a bucket, it will grow. And I kind of feel like maybe we say this sort of thing a lot, but it really is important to grow some plants. And break down your inhibitions around thinking you aren’t good at gardening or any of those things. Not because you’re going to overnight become a farmer or something like that. Farming is extremely difficult. I’m not good at it. But that’s not the goal. The goal is not to become some person who can grow all their own food overnight. And if you can, that’s fantastic. But the goal here is to be with living plants. To start to get to know how they grow and how they live and what their bodies are like. We know a lot about being human. But watching a plant just live its life teaches you so much about plants.
Yeah, it really does. And betony again, is a great choice for this. Both because like you’ve been saying, it’s easy to grow. It’s going to tolerate conditions. But also then you’re with betony. And that does help you. Like us at the conference petting the betony to get a little grounded from the buzziness of the room. If you have some betony, and you visit it every day. And you give it a little attention. That’s going to help you to get out of that multitasking mind, or that thrown mind, that habituated mind. And so, the old story there of sell your coat and buy betony. It’s like ah, it can help with so many different problems. And I think that that is true. It can help with digestive complaints and nervous system states and whatever. But it’s also that just being around betony, whether you’re taking it in tea or tincture, or you are petting the plant on your porch.
You’re co-respiring with it.
Right. That brings you to a state that helps you to be more receptive and to be more perceptive about what’s actually going on around you. Yeah. And that in turn leads to changes in your state of mind, your state of being, the way you interact with the next person you encounter. Like it does spin out from there in a much broader sense.
Tracing the Vagus Nerve & Everything Will Be Fine
Also, if you think about the way that betony is typically talked about, often it’ll have that kind of hand motion that goes from the head down to the guts. And that motion often accompanies when people talk about it being grounding. Lots of teachers will kind of make that movement. And even if you don’t make the gesture, what we’re really talking about is the path that energy is going as you drain a little excess energy from your brain that was maybe overheating a little and moving it down into your body. And all of that is tracing the path of the vagus nerve. And people are starting to kind of clue in around the vagus nerve now. And it’s getting a little more trendy to talk about and to recognize its importance in emotional health, but also all the kinds of health. Because your vagus nerve is part of the parasympathetic, and it’s part of like rest and digest functions. But the digest part is important because that is the nerve that also is connecting all the organs.
Right. And in some regards this is a way to understand a lot of the actions of betony on digestion. It’s this, and then it’s also that there are some aromatics in the plant. It’s not aromatic like lavender or chamomile, but it does have some of that type of chemistry. And that gets into your belly, and it gets things moving, and it releases tensions. And yeah, all of that carries through. Yeah. So, betony is just fantastic. It tastes good and blends with lots of other things really easily. We often make a blend called Everything Will be Fine.
It’s best for when everything is not fine.
That’s when you take it.
That’s when you drink it. Yeah.
So, you know, betony is a really critical herb for that formula. I feel like if I didn’t have betony, I probably wouldn’t call it by that name. I’d have to come up with some other name for it, for the blend. But there’s often some chamomile, maybe some catnip, some rose petals, tulsi.
There’s usually tulsi. Usually betony and then tulsi are the kind of like main points.
And then build from there.
Yeah. Build from there. And everything will be fine. It’s amazingly effective. It’s kind of surprisingly effective. There have been times in my life that have been really stressful. And then it’s one thing to have a lot of stress, and then another thing to be holding on to all that stress and interacting with people. And I could do one but maybe not both. And so whenever I had to interact with people, then it was like okay, but first I need a quart of this tea. And now I can go out, and I can be a human with humans.
Totally. So, we invite you to share in that experience too. All right. Well, I think that’ll be it for this one. Before we go, we wanted to talk a little bit about fallow month. So, this is something that we do three times a year for ourselves and also with our student body. Fallow month is a time when we really encourage all of our students to do some hands-on stuff and some face on stuff too. Like get your face into a whole pile of goldenrod flowers. Go out to the goldenrod hedgery and just kind of be inside of that.
Get in there with the bees. Yeah. It’s this concept of that in order to kind of maintain your highest productivity – I can’t believe I just said those words – you need rest time. Or another way to put that is you need to switch up the kinds of activities that you do. And so if you’re out there, and you’re studying. And you’re working hard to learn herbalism and improve your skills. That’s going to involve a lot of abstract thinking. It’s going to involve a lot of actual study, and maybe taking notes, maybe reading things, maybe whatever, and making those abstract connections in your mind. And that is a certain type of thought process, and it’s required. You have to do it when you’re trying to learn something. But you can’t learn herbalism just that way. It’s also really important to feel it. And so many people just don’t have a lot of time. And so there’s not necessarily time to do all your abstract thinking and then just take a lazy day and feel through all your herbs. So, we have this sort of rhythm in our school of every trimester, the first three months. Yeah, okay. Study, study, study. Great. Drink tea. That’s important. But like study, study. And then take a month and don’t try to study in that month. Instead during that month press out all your tinctures that you started and promised you were going to press out and didn’t. Or actually make some salve that you keep saying that you’re going to make. Or try a whole bunch of different formulas. Or try and formulate stuff for your friends. Or go outside and just look at a bunch of plants that maybe you don’t normally have time to do. All of that tactile kind of learning is critically important if you’re going to be an herbalist. You can’t just have the thinky kind. You need the feely kind also.
Right. And that brings you to things like the tastes of the different goldenrods that look almost identical. And that brings you to things like the feeling of that movement, and that transition, and that shift when you take betony, and you feel things move down in your system, right? Those are things that we can tell you about, and you might believe us, I guess.
You shouldn’t though. You should try it yourself. Yeah.
So, in that regard, we do have some ways to help you with these practices. We’ve put a bunch of them into a free course called Herbal Study Tips. And a lot of our favorite study tips there are really about getting out of your head, getting into your body. I really like this philosopher Alan Watts. And he says you’ve got to go out of your mind in order to come to your senses.
Oh, that’s kind of amazing.
So, if anybody calls you that crazy herb weirdo, then you can be like that is 100% correct. I’m going to go to the garden. So, here’s an example of a study tip exercise you can do. You can take some of your tinctures off of your shelf. Safe ones, okay.
Yeah. Ones that are gentle or don’t have any kind of interactions for you.
Right. You can obscure the labels. You can just tape some paper around them, so you can’t tell which one is which. And then you shuffle them up. And then you grab one at random, and you taste it. And maybe you know the plant right away. And if so, that’s great. But even if that happens… Whether it happens or not. Even if you know the plant, or if you don’t know the plant, think about and ask yourself what does your tongue tell you right now? Try to try to name the flavors. Try to compare them to other things that you’ve tasted.
Name the flavors as like spicy, or tingly, or pungent, but not like spearmint. Try to name them in terms of how they feel on your tongue, or other flavors that they remind you of. Often tulsi reminds me of bubblegum, like whatever.
Yeah. So, this is a really helpful skill, not only if you’re working in an eclipse in a dark room with no lights. And you’re trying to find the chamomile tincture. I don’t know. It’s not only for that, but this is training your tongue. Training your tongue to discern fine gradations of flavor. And then when you taste a new herb that you’ve never encountered before, after someone told you it was safe, right? Then you’re like okay, what am I learning? What am I learning straight from the plant?
Right. What am I learning about the chemistry that I can detect with my senses? And a lot of chemistry can be detected with your senses. Not everything, but a lot of it can be. And the stuff that can be detected by the senses is extremely reliable. If you taste it, the action is there. So, once you get really good at identifying those flavors, like that weird, bittery metal taste of berberine, for example. It’s a very distinct kind of flavor. And maybe you’ve never tasted Oregon grape or even ever heard of it. And then you try some, and you’re like wow. This tastes like berberine to me. It is, right? You can come to a point of relying on your own senses so much. I mean, you can look it up because that’s great. But if it’s there, it’s there, you know? And yes, if it’s the first time you’ve tasted it, you might be like I don’t know. Is it there? I’m not really sure. But you don’t have to make that kind of question about apples. You know what an apple tastes like. And you know what pizza tastes like. And you know what jalapeno tastes like.
Well, that’s another reason to do this kind of exercise, right? When you can conjure up in your mind the taste of evening primrose, tulsi, wood betony, and rose petals. And you’re like yeah, that would actually make a good formula. You can imagine each of those flavors. You can project it into your mouth for a moment. And be like hmm, yeah. Those would go together, sure.
Yeah. Just like cooking, just exactly like cooking. And even when you’re cooking, that also is a reflection of chemistry. We don’t usually think about it that way, but it is. But that’s what you’re really leaning on when you’re using those senses to formulate in herbalism.
So, just an example. We’ve got lots of other cool herbal study tips for you in the course called Herbal Study Tips. Like all of our courses, this is based on video lessons. We’ve got MP3s you can download and take on the go. There’s some documents to help you get yourself started. We’ve got discussion threads in there. You join our community. You get invited to our weekly Q&A sessions. And you’ve got access forever. So, it’s a pretty good deal for free.
Yeah. So, go check that out. See if you like it. If you like that one, you might like more of our courses. So, you can find Herbal Study Tips and all of our courses at online.commonwealthherbs.com.
All right. So, that’s it for today. We’ll be back again soon with some more Holistic Herbalism podcast for you. Until then, take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. Drink some tea.
Drink some tea.
Soldier on and sell your coat.
No, wait. Keep your coat.
Oh, right, right. Good enough. Bye everyone.
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