Podcast 225: Herbs A-Z: Verbascum & Verbena
We have just three episodes remaining in our Herbs A-Z series! Today’s show features mullein and blue vervain.
Verbascum thapsus, mullein, deserves its reputation as an effective remedy for dry respiratory conditions. Its leaf is a great ally when your home heating system dries out the air inside, or when your area is hit by wildfire smoke. But mullein leaf isn’t a systemically moistening herb – its effects outside the respiratory system are drying, through better distribution of fluids. Also, mullein root and flower are each different from the leaf – root is even more astringent & tonifying, while the leaf is a more mucilaginous demulcent. Categories like “moistening” and “drying” bear close investigation and nuanced exploration – mullein teaches us this lesson.
Verbena hastata, blue vervain, is an excellent nervine when you want to release tension without losing all structure. It helps us to receive & transform, whether that’s food or information or experiences. As one of our bitter nervines – a very important affinity group of medicinal plants – vervain is an excellent companion to motherwort, mugwort, st john’s wort, yarrow, angelica, feverfew, betony, skullcap, and the like. These herbs call forward the strong interconnection of our digestive & nervous systems, and remind us that mental discomforts are as much in need of relief as physical ones. That includes during acute illness, and that’s why vervain always gets included in our homemade Winter Elixir. Try it in yours this year!
If you live in the northern hemisphere, cold & flu season is in full swing! And no matter where you live, it’s good to have the knowledge and skills you need to take care of these common problems at home. Herbal Remedies for Cold & Flu teaches you everything you need to know to conquer a cold or fight off the flu. We teach you how to work with herbs that are safe and effective for all aspects of the illness. These strategies can also be very effective when coping with COVID, RSV, and other respiratory infections, too! Our focus is on finding ways to support what your body is already trying to do as it works to restore balance.
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Hi, I’m Katja.
And I’m Ryn.
And we’re here at Commonwealth Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.
And on the internet everywhere, thanks to the power of the podcast.
Yes. Thank you podcasts for bringing our words out to the world. Thank you people for listening.
For bringing the world into our… anyway. Today on the podcast, on the Holistic Herbalism podcast. Hey, I get to do it. Today we are going to talk about mullein and blue vervain, which are two great plants that are great. They’re great. They don’t have to be together. It’s okay. They’re just great.
Yes. And we’ll talk about tastes, but that’s okay. These are really excellent friends, and we love them. And we want to tell you all about them. But first we want to remind you that you can learn all about herbs and herbalism from us online.
If you love this podcast, you will love our online courses. We have an entire school. If it is your very first class you’ve ever taken about herbs, if you are ready to become a professional, if you are anywhere in between. If you just listen to our podcast, and love it so much, and feel like you’re more motivated to listen to the podcast than you are to do your herbal studies in whatever book or other source you’ve got. Come to our school. You will love it. You will find it at online.commonwealthherbs.com.
That’s right. That’s all there is to it.
It’s on the internet everywhere. Yes.
All right, cool. And then we also want to remind you that we are not doctors. We are herbalist and holistic health educators. And the ideas discussed in this podcast do not constitute medical advice. No state or federal authority licenses herbalists in the US. So, these discussions are for educational purposes only.
We want to remind you that good health doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone. Good health is… Wow. This isn’t the part I normally say. It’s really hard to say the part I don’t normally say. 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.
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Yes. All right. We did it.
We did it.
That was a little different, but we did it.
it’s because I got a little distracted. Because I was thinking about when we were talking about come to our herb school. When I was just saying come to our herb school, I was thinking about the newsletter that I sent out today. I send out a newsletter in theory every Monday. Sometimes it happens on Tuesday, but usually it’s Mondays. And sometimes I do a little series, or sometimes it’s just whatever I’m thinking about right in the moment. And right now, because I don’t know when you’re listening to this, but we are saying these words on January 8th of 2024. So, it’s in that window of people making resolutions, and getting organized for the new year, and stuff like that. I’ve been writing about learning herbalism more easily. And not putting a lot of pressure on yourself to make your studies of herbalism look like some kind of traditional school situation, where you’ve got flashcards and 10 piles of notes. Not that there’s anything wrong with flashcards or taking notes. Those are great things if they help you. But that if you’re really busy, or if you are busy like several days in a row, that can really throw off your study schedule and make it hard to make progress.
And so I’ve been writing about ways to study, even if you only have 10 minutes a day. And really keep that study meaningful. And to allow even just 10 minutes a day to start to build context and a systematic method of working with herbs instead of just little tidbits here and there. And so if you want that and all the other stuff that I write in the newsletters every week, then sign up for the newsletters at our website, commonwealthherbs.com. But the thing that I was really getting at here was that a lot of people do write and say it’s hard for me to focus. I’m enrolled in this course somewhere, and it’s not really suiting my learning style. And I really am grateful for the podcast because it speaks to me in ways that are easy to understand, whatever. And I was just thinking about how if you are in that boat. And you’re trying to make resolutions for yourself for this new year. I don’t know. Maybe I should have saved all this for blue vervain because this is going to be so relevant to blue vervain. We’re going to get there. But just to let the pressure off yourself, not to feel like you have to bang your head against something that isn’t working for you. Or that your studies have to look a certain way to be valid. Or all that pressure that we just put on ourselves. And allow yourself to just listen to some stuff and feel good about that. Just feel good about getting some herbs in your day. That’s what I’m trying to say. Okay. More on that when we get to blue vervain. But mullein first because we’re going in order.
Mullein & Indoor Humidity Levels
Yeah. Let’s talk about mullein. Today it is January, and it’s actually cold. And we actually got some snow, and so we’re pretty happy about all of that.
And it’s also been cold enough to light our wood stove, which it hadn’t been for much of the putative winter so far.
The winter that wasn’t.
Yeah. So, we’ve been enjoying that for the last couple days and noticing the immediate impact that that had on humidity levels in our house. And this is something we’ve been paying a lot of attention to as we’ve been thinking more in the last few years about air quality, indoor in particular, and how to maintain that. And what kind of filters are going to be best. And what effects managing humidity levels is going to have on the quality of the air that we breathe and all of that kind of thing coming together. And so yeah, we’ve been monitoring pretty carefully. We’ve got some cool devices around the house that tell us humidity on that side of the house, and over here, and whatever. But yeah, lighting the wood stove is lovely, but it does drop the humidity down. And so we run more humidifiers. Or put out pots of water on top of the wood stove and try to bring that back up. But we also say, let’s make sure there’s some mullein in the tea, right? And this is not an unusual habit for us. We haven’t always lived in places with a wood stove in it. But we’ve lived in lots of places with forced hot air heating or with electric baseboard heaters, which both also can really drastically dry out the air inside your living space.
Basically, whatever kind of heating system you have, it’s going to dry out the air because heat dries things. It just does. It just dries. It causes water to evaporate out of whatever. And so it’s just going to dry your house out. And so even if you live in a really damp climate. I’m thinking about a place where it just rains all the time or whatever. If you’ve got the heat on inside your house, yeah, it might be humid outside, but it is dry inside. And if you are spending most of your time inside, then that’s the environment that you’re in, even though outside it is not the same. These human-created environments that we’ve made for ourselves.
Yeah. So, mullein is relevant here because mullein helps to keep your respiratory system, your respiratory tract hydrated and keep fluid moving to it, and towards it, and up to those mucous membranes. So, that’s your lungs of course, but also your sinuses and your airway, and places where you might feel dryness, or you might notice it. If you start turning on the heat in the winter, and after a while you start waking up with a nosebleed. Or just getting that in the course of your day.
Like just a little bit of a… yeah. Or you feel it. Even maybe you didn’t wake up, and blow your nose, and have a little bit of blood in your handkerchief, but you just feel like you could. You have that kind of raw broken feeling on the inside of your nose.
Yeah. So, this is a place where mullein can be really, really helpful. And so yeah, that might be about winter heating. It might be if somebody’s a smoker. It might be, and it unfortunately often is, when we’re dealing with wildfire smoke. If that’s the fire itself is near to you or just the smoke is traveling the airways and coming through your region. These are all increasingly common experiences for people today. So, mullein is a plant we’ve discussed before. We did a podcast a while back, #168, about climate change, and about fires, and about smoke. And mullein was a real star standout herb that we discussed in that episode. Yeah. So, we’ll put a link to that in the notes. And you can check that one out too if you’re interested in this topic.
An Assertive Fluid-Moving Herb
I have been really looking forward to talking about mullein. Because whenever we talk about mullein – and I think this is probably true for most herbalists – when we talk about mullein, we talk about it as being moistening. But today, and you just did that whole lovely intro about it being moistening.
Moistening to the respiratory system.
Specifically to the respiratory system. And so today I really want to focus on mullein as a drying herb. And you can’t focus on that by itself. The moistening actions of mullein and the drying actions of mullein are the same thing. You can’t have one without the other. And I also think that’s wicked cool. But so let me say a little bit about what I mean there. And I’m going to talk mostly from the perspective of the leaf right now, or from the perspective of working with the leaf. We can get nitty gritty about the flower and the root. But let’s talk specifically about the leaf because that’s what most people are working with most of the time. It is not moistening to the respiratory system because it’s like marshmallow root. And it is just so packed full of gloppy, goopy polysaccharides, that it’s just bringing this slimy goop into your body and lotioning you up from the inside.
Yeah. Or even your body reacts to that coming in. And it’s like wow, I’m going to get hydrated. This is great. I can release some reserves to the lungs and other mucous membranes and allow them to get a little slimy.
Yeah. Even if you just touch a mullein leaf, it is not emollient. You don’t feel like I feel moisturized just looking at this leaf. That’s just not what’s going on. And so how exactly is mullein moistening the respiratory tract or the respiratory system if it’s not bringing goop into your respiratory tract? And the way that it’s doing it is that it is moving water from other places in your body and bringing it up through the lungs. The lungs are one pathway of elimination. And excess water is one thing that we have to eliminate. So, when you have water to move around in your body, some of it will go through the kidneys and the bladder and the pee. But some of it comes out through the lungs. And this is why if you need to clean your glasses. And you take your glasses off, and you “hooo” on them. And it makes the fog on your glasses. That fog is moisture that’s coming out on your breath. And it is being excreted from your body through the lungs.
So, if it’s being excreted from the body through the lungs. Then you have to imagine this system of pathways through your body that gets some moisture to your lungs so that it can come out that way, right? Otherwise, where else is it coming from? And so that’s where mullein is working on this traffic system or whatever that’s moving moisture to the lungs. And it’s encouraging that movement to happen. And so, haha, mullein is moistening. Except if you’re in the whole rest of the body, in which case mullein is moving fluid away from that part of the body towards the lungs. And in my body, this feels fantastic. I love this. Mullein is very comforting. Oh, I wouldn’t go so far as to say gentle. It’s somewhere between gentle and assertive. It’s maybe not aggressive. Maybe it is just assertive. An assertive mover of fluid up from the lower parts of the body. Which if you’ve listened to the podcast before, you know that I run damp, and I tend to get fluid kind of stuck in the lower part of my body like lots of people. And so mullein really assertively. There are some plants who will do this aggressively. I’m thinking of ocotillo or red root. But mullein is assertive about moving that fluid out of the bottom parts of the body. It’s all going up towards the lungs. So, I, I love that. It feels great. It tastes really good. It’s a nice switch from the normal lymphatic herbs. It is having a lymphatic action. But we don’t usually think of mullein as a lymphatic herb in that same category with calendula, and red clover, and self-heal.
Yeah, it’s a good example of an herb that has an astringency to it. And that astringency signals that it can help to change the pattern of distribution of fluids in the body. And so it’s a great match for somebody with a constitution like yours where dominant with dampness. But then there are dry spots because of insufficient fluid distribution, and circulation, and movement, and turnover, and things like this. And so it’s not unusual actually for students to write in and be like I’m so confused about this whole constitution thing. And the reason almost always is because for myself I can see this factor that’s damp and that factor that’s dry. And I’m getting caught up in what seems like a contradiction inside my own system.
And it’s not usually a contradiction. It’s usually layers.
Yeah. Layers, right? Or clinically speaking too, there can be cases where you’re looking at somebody’s constitution or what you get a sense of about that. And you’re like okay, well I see dampness. I see dryness. What’s going on? And it can throw you until you start thinking about this not in absolute terms of just tell me the total amount of water being carried by this human, but where is it? And where should it be? And where does it need to be? And where is it lacking? And stuff like that. And that brings you away from just thinking about add water or take water away, right? Demulcents or diuretics. It gets you over into oh, we need to think about circulation, about movement, about lymphatics. About herbs that can shore up some boundaries that were maybe leaky. And that was allowing water to get out into places it shouldn’t be or to get stuck there. So, that’s where that astringency comes back in, right? Astringents are about restoring proper barriers and integrity between types of tissue, things like that.
Yeah. I just think it’s so funny because I don’t think there’s a single herb resource, book, or website, or whatever that you could go to and get a list of fluid movers, or lymphatic stimulants, or even circulatory stimulants, or like any of that stuff and have mullein show up on the list. I really don’t think that would ever happen. And yet.
It’s there though, right?
It really is doing that work. At best we think of it as a mechanism of action. We don’t even think of it as an action on its own. We just think of it as the mechanism by which the action of moistening the lungs happens. And by we think of it there, I mean the sort of herbal community in this time and this place, the herbal zeitgeist. I don’t know, whatever. But I don’t know. I think maybe it’s time to start thinking of the mechanism as an action. That’s what I think.
Mullein Root & Musculoskeletal Concerns
Yeah. Nice. You know, you had kind of gestured toward the root earlier. And you were saying all right, well let’s focus on the leaf right here. It’s what we tend to work with more often, especially if you’re going to make a cup of tea. And you’re going to infuse that. And maybe you’ve got some other respiratory-focused herbs in there. Like today my tea has mullein in it, but also a bunch of monarda and thyme, and then a bit of fennel. So, this has some extra heat and some stimulation towards the respiratory system from those hot, aromatic mint plants. Yeah.
Oh, you want to talk about the root?
I don’t want to forget to say one other thing though. And so I’m just going to insert it right here, and then we can move on to the root. Which is that earlier I mentioned lymphatic stimulants like calendula, red clover, and self-heal, and moving fluids in general. And I was just thinking about bloating. Because often when we’re thinking about bloating, we need to move fluids. And I have to say mullein is not a plant I would think about there, unless I really had nothing else to work with. But I really feel mullein in the periphery moving fluid out from the periphery in towards the trunk of the body. And much less from the lower trunk to the upper trunk or from the lower trunk to the kidneys or whatever else. For that I absolutely am still sticking to things like calendula, but also fennel, ginger, well self-heal there, even red clover. And I would not be thinking about mullein in that way. I’d really be thinking about the periphery, out from the edges into the body. Okay. I was just thinking about those mechanisms. And then I was like oh, but it’s not so great with bloating. It’s not going to not have any impact at all. It’s just not going to have the amount of impact you could get with calendula, especially calendula and fennel together. You can get so much movement in the lower trunk of the body that way, that you’re not going to see with the mullein. Yeah.
Yeah. Right on. Nice. Well, so the leaf, right, it has that capacity to exert some astringency, but then bring some of that moisture toward the respiratory system. So, it’s got some elements of drying over here, moistening over there. But if we look at the plant as a whole, we kind of see a spectrum within this one herb, right? The root is very astringent. It’s very tonifying. It’s very drying. It’s more diuretic than the leaf is if you compare tincture to tincture. It’s got a bunch of excellent astringent effects that it can exert on pelvic floor organs. It can help with the spine in a similar way. The thing about mullein root as a musculoskeletal remedy is that I’ve put this as much closer to something like Japanese knotweed than something like Solomon’s seal. And I know a lot of us American herbalists who have grown up on the internet for the past 10 years or so. If we think about mullein root, we probably think about Jim McDonald and his article about mullein root, because he got there first.
On the musculoskeletal stuff, yeah.
He shared a bunch of great stuff around there and got that out widely to a lot of folks. And then they taught others and so on, right So, this is great, and thanks, Jim. But sometimes I see people kind of put Solomon’s seal and mullein root side-by-side because of that. And I think that again, I’d put mullein root a lot closer to a musculoskeletal plant like Japanese knotweed, which is tonifying, and is structuring, and has a drying quality. And it’s really great for people who have joints or the spine where there is a lot of fluid stagnation. And that could be just from extended inflammatory activity going on, for sure. But if I have a situation where it’s all dry and crackly and poppy and so on, mullein root by itself wouldn’t be my suggestion.
No. This is not a very great comparison – but it’s a very popular comparison – which is between ashwagandha and shatavari. They are often kind of proposed as the yin and yang versions of each other. And there’s a lot of problems with that kind of a comparison. But I suppose at a very gross level, a very course level. You know, the microscope as far out as it’ll go, whatever. At the highest level, they are kind of a pair that way in terms of drying and moistening and warming and cooling.
You’ve got a nightshade and an asparagus family. And they really are influenced by their family resemblances.
They really are. Yeah. And so equally inaccurately, I’m going to do the same thing with Solomon’s seal and mullein root. Again, this is not a perfect pairing. They are not a perfect 180 of each other or whatever else. But in terms of the mullein root is drying and tonifying, and the Solomon’s seal is moistening and lubricating. And so if you are thinking in your joints. Basically, if you hear cracking, don’t be thinking mullein root. And if you feel like there’s too much fluid, then do be thinking mullein root, right? And then the opposite. If you hear cracking, oh, maybe you’re thinking Solomon’s seal. You know, that kind of thing.
So, okay. You know, that’s the root. That’s a different energetic expression than we have in the leaf. Go ahead.
A Strengthening Diuretic
Before you move on. I have one other thing about the root because you mentioned diuretic. And I really feel like every time we say the word diuretic, I just want to hold up a sign. Like you could be over here just saying diuretic. And then I could just have my sign, and I’m just holding it up here. And I want the sign to say it doesn’t always just mean pee, you know? Because when we hear the word diuretic, we usually think I’m going to have to pee every 30 minutes. And with mullein root, that is not the case. One specific thing about mullein root is that much like pleurisy root, it consolidates pee. So, if you’re a person who pees all of the time, and that’s annoying for you. Either because you just have like small bladder capacity, or you have some incontinence issues. Or maybe frequent UTIs even could cause this. But if you are one of those people who just pee every 30 minutes. You can’t even go a whole hour. Then mullein root might be appropriate. Now, there’s a lot of other factors going on here because of lots of other constitutional issues. But in some cases, this is going to really work out. Because what happens is that mullein root… Let me back up. Because sometimes when you pee all of the time, what’s going on is that the bladder is just not really up to snuff. It’s like I don’t want to hold all this pee. I understand that’s my job. But I’m just not feeling really strong today. And so let’s just, you know, I’m just not going to carry this around. I’m just going to… Let’s go pee. Come on.
And sometimes you just need your bladder to be the one who’s carrying all the stuff. You have a lot to do in a day. You don’t have time to pee every 30 minutes. And you just need your bladder to have a great big backpack and be like it’s okay. Just put it in the pack. I can hold it. And that’s how I feel about mullein root. It really strengthens the bladder. And so if you are peeing every 30 minutes, and there is this laxity in the bladder, this aspect of not having enough strength in the bladder to feel like you could hold more. You feel the pee accumulating, and you’re like I’ve got to go pee now. Because if it gets any bigger, I’m going to pee my pants. You know, that kind of a thing. These are all the things that I’m thinking about mullein root. And all of those things still fall under the category of diuretic, right? My sign. It’s just like it doesn’t mean you’re going to pee right now. In this case yes, it’s diuretic, but it is also strengthening. I don’t even want to use the word tonifying here, because it’s not enough. It really is strengthening. And it’s just like don’t worry bladder. You can hold it. You can do it. Yeah.
Yeah. But coming right along with that, through tonifying impacts, not just on the mucous membranes of the bladder, but on the muscles around it as well. That can help with the capacity to empty the bladder, which is another kind of like strengthening effect.
I’m talking about strength to hold and contain. You also need a kind of strength to empty fully. So, that you’re like okay, great. Now I won’t have to do that again for a while.
Right, right, right. Yeah. But then sometimes your bladder just isn’t really up for it. It’s just like oh, whatever. I peed some. It’s fine. It’s good enough.
So, you can see this is a very, very helpful herb when it comes to a variety of urinary presentations.
Yeah. And then I mentioned pleurisy root there. And it’s funny because pleurisy root, when we think of it in terms of the respiratory system, very similar. It’s super moistening and lubricating for the lungs, and specifically the pleura, the sac that holds the lungs. But it is doing a very… It’s the mechanism of action of that moistening is very similar. It is moving fluid from other parts of the body up to the lungs. And in relation to the bladder itself, the action of pleurisy root and mullein root is also really similar. That it is helping the bladder to be strong enough to hold all of your pee until it is time to actually pee. Instead of to just like pee every minute you even have a drop in there.
Yeah. Okay. Anyway, sorry. There are a few layers of rabbit hole there. But I really think it’s important. And I really am going to make a sign. And it’s really going to say it’s not always pee.
Yeah. That’ll be good.
Or sometimes it’s pee, but just pee later.
Drying Root to Demulcent Flower & Menstruum Considerations
Okay. All right. So, the root, right, more drying, more tonifying in comparison to the leaf. If we go the other way and we look at the flower, well here, yeah. I would agree that the flower counts as a demulcent or even as a mucilaginous herb. I wouldn’t use the word mucilaginous for mullein leaf and definitely not for the root. We can talk about mullein leaf moving fluid to the lungs and having that local moistening quality to it, definitely. But if you were to make mullein flower tea and just drink that, that can be moistening to the whole system. That can be hydrating. That’s a demulcent remedy, right? That’s a mucilaginous remedy.
Yeah. Again, it’s not going to be marshmallow root because marshmallow root is super strong in this capacity. It’s maybe not going to be linden, but it’s definitely going to be like violet for sure. Maybe somewhere between violet and linden.
The flower does still have some astringency to it. There’s still a little bit of tannin in there. You can feel it. You can taste it on your tongue. But that’s also part of what mullein flower offers when we go and make an infused oil, and we drop that in the ears. By the way, that’s not the only thing you can do with mullein flowers, even though in American herbalism it’s kind of the most common thing. It’s like oh, mullein flower. Oh, that’s for the ear oil, right? Yeah, okay. But you can make tea, you know? You can get these moistening systemic impacts from the plant. And you can explore that in a bunch of different ways. You can work with mullein flowers as a poultice for something that’s dry and rashy and irritated. And you can have an anti-inflammatory effect and a soothing impact on that. So, it is more. But let’s just say the mullein flower oil is probably the most moistening preparation you can do with mullein because of both the part and the menstruum that you’ve got.
Right. The flower is moistening, and the oil is moistening. And together they are wonder twin power moistening action.
Right. Because that’s the other way that we can think about mullein and set up a scale here. Between being very drying and tonifying on one end and being very moistening and relaxing on the other end. So, we can go drying-tonifying root. And then in the middle somewhere is leaf. And then further on toward flower we’re in the moistening-relaxant range, right?
Like on a spectrum. Yeah.
Yeah. But then we can do the same in terms of preparation. And if you just think about even just one part. If you just work with the leaf, well, we could infuse that in oil. Okay, yeah. That’d be more moistening than doing it in water and making tea. Which is more moistening than doing a mullein tincture, right? Which are all going to be more moistening than mullein as a smoke because that’s as dry as it gets, right? Yeah. So, preparation method matters as well. And look, this isn’t just about mullein. This is about any kind of a plant. So, even when we’re doing a monograph, and we’re talking about an herb. And we want to set down the energetics and put them on paper. This herb is hot, dry, and tonifying. That herb is cooling and moistening and relaxant, right? You always have to consider that as a starting place. That’s a central tendency. That’s a center of gravity. And then what you do with the herb next can change those things, or they can push them in one direction or another. You light your herb on fire. That’s going to move it towards hot and dry. You soak it in water. Okay. You’re probably going to add a moistening element to that compared to just chewing on it right out of the ground, you know? You put it in oil, especially a really damp oil like olive oil. Then that’s going to be more moistening, right? So, you’re always wanting to be aware of those attributes when you’re thinking about your plant. And this is one of many, many ways that just naming an herb, or naming a quality of an herb, or an action of an herb, that’s a starting point. That’s not the end of your discussion.
You just mentioned a damp oil. And if you’re listening, and you’re like what does that even mean? Think in terms of heavy and light. Olive oil is a fairly heavy oil. And then we can get even heavier and be like tallow, and lard, and stuff like that.
Yeah. And then you think about a light oil like safflower oil.
Or almond oil. Coconut oil, I think in my mind that falls in the light category when we’re thinking about it topically. And so, we can also use damp and dry on that same… The words when we’re describing oils, they can be kind of interchangeable. A heavy oil, a damp oil, a more moistening oil. And then like a light oil, a sort of drying oil, or an oil that is not moistening, or that is the least amount moistening. Okay.
Blue Vervain & Relaxing Expectations
Alright. So, shall we move on to blue vervain?
Let’s do it. Let’s talk about vervain. All right.
So, as we were talking, as I was saying before, I’m really just kind of obsessed with this idea. And it’s not just because I was just writing the newsletter this morning. But just when you have these feelings, you have these expectations. And so often they’re not even real. They’re expectations that you’re putting on you. The world isn’t even putting these expectations on you. Okay, now listen. Sometimes the world is, but sometimes they’re not.
And it can be hard to tell the difference.
It can be hard to tell the difference. And you just have these ideas of it’s not good enough. I’m not good enough. It has to be more. It has to be this way. It has to be whatever. And all of those feelings are getting in the way of you even doing the thing you want to be doing. That’s blue vervain. We often talk about it in terms of it helps people who are Type A relax. And I feel like that’s not quite as useful of a phrase. Twenty years ago I think that was a pretty useful phrase. But I think that our understanding of personalities has changed a lot since then, even though I do still use the phrase Type A a lot of times. And I also feel like just our understanding of emotional intelligence as a culture has progressed enough that that’s just not descriptive enough anymore.
I mean, Type A, it’s sort of an external observation, right? And what I’m thinking of is there can be Type A 1-1 million because of the reason that you’re behaving in that manner, right? People call somebody else oh, they’re a real Type A personality. And they usually mean they seem to need to be in control of things, and to try to take over, or to get edgy if they’re not the one in charge, or the one making things happen. But you can respond that way for lots of reasons. And not all of them have to do with thinking that you know better than everyone else.
Or with being super ambitious and driven. Yeah.
Exactly. Sometimes it’s well, if I act this way for a while, then people tend to leave me alone, or think that I’m doing things right, or pat me on the head. And I need that. So, that’s how I’m going to behave, even if it’s uncomfortable internally. And it’s not an expression of I’m happiest when I get to tell everyone what to do. That may not be going on for them at all.
Right. Or it might be I have experienced so much trauma in my life. And these types of trauma were all around control being taken from me. Not excess control, just basic, everyday autonomy being taken from me. And so now as a self-protective mechanism, I feel most comfortable when I am in more control than I probably need. Because that’s compensating or comforting after traumatic experiences where I had less control than I should have had. That kind of situation. Which is also uncomfortable. It’s also uncomfortable. It’s rooted in not feeling safe. It’s rooted in feeling like at any minute the floor could come out from under you.
Yeah. So, vervain can bring in this feeling of… Well, it starts as a relaxant effect, right? Because these feelings and perceptions we’re talking about, the natural response is to tense up. To be carrying around that tension to kind of hold yourself together, be on edge ready to react, ready to respond to protect yourself, you know?
And then at some point, maybe even to rely on that tension to keep it up. And so then the tension starts to feed itself. Because you’re like I need this tension, so that I can continue to do the thing. And then you can’t release the tension anymore.
Yeah. And that might be the phase at which the person starts to look for help. To look for some kind of a remedy or some kind of change to what’s going on. Because like most forms of tension, when you try to maintain it for a long period of time, it starts to get shaky, and it starts to spasm. And so you holding yourself together with tension, with that kind of inner anxiety, you can’t maintain that forever. And so you start to have moments where you break, or you flood, or whatever that looks like for you. And okay, now the person is like I’ve got to do something about this.
Yeah. I can’t hold it together anymore.
Yeah. And maybe they find their way to herbs. And maybe they find their way to blue vervain. And what’s nice about vervain is that it can release that tension without sort of turning you into a puddle. Do you know? It won’t take away all of your structure at once when you work with this relaxant.
Yeah. In this way it is not like kava. And this is why also I feel like a lot of people really love kava because it does make a little bit of a puddle for them. And that allows some freedom of movement and whatever. But for people who have come to the point where they really rely on the tension to feel safe, sometimes kava or other super relaxants, but especially the kava is the one that really pops to my mind because it is very well known. It’s one that people turn to a lot. And then some people become very uncomfortable because it does make you a little too relaxed. Blue vervain doesn’t do that. It’s not like I’m going to relax so much that now I’m going to cry. And I’m going to start to feel all the things that I’m holding away from me with this tension and whatever else. It just lets you relax enough so that you don’t have to put all that pressure on yourself.
A Cooling & Bitter Nervine
Yeah. There’s a cooling element to it as well, where that inner pressure causes the heat to rise. Vervain is a very bitter herb, and it has one of those kinds of cooling qualities to it through that flavor. And it can kind of take that inner heat and dial it back a little bit. Right? Yeah. So, you feel more like the definition of the word cool as an adjective for, if you are of a cool mental state right now.
Cool as a cucumber.
Yeah, that’s the one. It can bring you there.
You know, cucumbers also have a little astringency. Yeah. They don’t totally fall apart. They’re not like a mushy tomato.
It’s a cool cucumber. Yeah.
In case you needed a vegetable character to get you through your stressful moment. You can just put googly eyes on a cucumber and be like there you go. That’s me.
Well, but the bitter, right? The bitter element through the flavor with blue vervain, that makes me think about other bitter tasting nervine herbs.
Which is so many of them.
It is quite a lot actually, it turns out. You can think of a few, and then you look at your shelf of herbs behind you. And you’re like oh, yeah. And you, and you, and that one, and this too also. But it’s something that’s worth noting when you’re thinking about nervines and about herbs that can relax mental and emotional tension, or relieve feelings of anxiety, or other facets like that. A lot of the herbs that can do these things have a bitter flavor to them. And when we think about bitter as herbalists, we often jump straight to the digestive system. Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. Bitters are going to stimulate saliva, and stomach acid, and bile, and all that. They’re going to enhance digestive efficiency. Take them before meals. It’s great. But that’s not the end of what bitter is or what bitter does. And both from the lens of traditional medicine, where we can see a range of bitter nervine plants as like an affinity group, a set of herbs that hang out together in various types of practice, and different traditions, and over time, and all that. But then from the modern world as well, we can look at modern research on bitter taste receptors, and bitter tasting chemistry, types of plant constituents that have bitter flavors. And what kinds of predictable effects do they have on the body? And not all of them are digestive in nature. Of course a lot are, yeah. But there’s also effects on nerve activation rates, and coordination of hormonal signals, and all kinds of other cool stuff going on with these.
I feel like it’s actually kind of impossible to tease it apart. Because these things exist in a connected circle immediately, right? So, I think that the phrase “rest and digest” could actually be really helpful in understanding the circle here. Because your body is always taking in the environment and responding to it. And so when stressful things are happening in the environment, your stress levels are rising. But even just if you start to make yourself hyperventilate a little bit or kind of hold your breath and clamp everything down as if you are experiencing tension. Your brain is not feeling tension. Your emotions are not. But you’re just putting your body physically in the space of tension. After a minute, not an actual 60 seconds. I don’t know how long it takes, but it actually doesn’t take very long. Your body starts to say hey, I’m in stress pose. I’m in stress activity. I guess I better get everything ready because I must be in a stressful situation. And so then you start having these feedback responses of changing all the hormone level, so that your body can deal with the stress that it assumes you must be about to experience. Because your body is experiencing physical stress behavior or physical stress postures.
The opposite, when we think about rest and digest. Like oh, I’m just chilling out. I guess everything must be fine. Oh, I’m just chilling out, and it’s time for a nice meal. Oh, hmm, I’m just feeling like it’s time for a fun whatever. And that also is giving feedback. So, we take bitters. They prepare the digestive system for food. We have the gastric juices happening. We have all of the, you know, triggering mechanisms in the giant Rube Goldberg machine of the digestive system all starting to happen. And like all the little balls are going down the ramps and hitting the bell and triggering the next thing. And you know, like just imagine some fun Rube Goldberg machine in your brain. And so the body is saying oh, okay. Digestion is getting ready to happen. I guess everything’s fine. We wouldn’t be eating if we were stressed out, would we? Would we? And so it’s like that meme with the Star Wars, whatever. Okay. And so it’s also like that whole circle. And then, so all of this is like a giant chicken and egg thing. Which came first? The relaxation of the vagus nerve that then said okay, it’s time for me to eat. That then said okay, it’s whatever. Or did the message about eating come, and then the vagus nerve relaxed, and then my body relaxed, or then did the whatever. Did my body relax, and then my vagus nerve relaxed, and then the…? And it all happened. All these things, they are kicking each other off, and they are simultaneous. They’re all the chicken, they’re all the egg, is what I’m trying to say.
Receive & Transform with Bitter Pairings
Yeah. If you want magic words, you could say that bitter nervines like blue vervain, they help you to receive and transform, right? And that’s true for your food. And that’s true for the things that are happening around you, that are getting you amped up and getting you tight. And that you’re in that moment of that kind of stress response that you are rejecting. And you’re like not ready to take that in right now. I don’t want your opinion. I’m going to do it my way. But with this influence in you, you’re like all right. I hear what you have to say. Maybe I keep some of it. Maybe I just don’t need that part. But I can continue on, and it’s not going to be a problem. The receive and transform, yeah.
I actually really like that phrasing because all your examples were kind of outward examples. But when you said receive, it was very inward to me. It was very like oh, I could receive compassion for myself. Oh, I could receive love for myself. Oh, I could stop telling myself that I don’t deserve those things. Oh, I could allow myself to have a little kindness towards myself. You know? So, I don’t know if that’s just a mechanism of how I’ve been feeling about me lately versus how you’ve been feeling about I don’t know what. But that is what came to mind first when you said receive. And I also feel like, you know, when I’m turning to blue vervain, it is so often because of the pressure that I’m putting on myself. It is so often because I think that I need to be a certain way. Whatever it is I’m doing, it has to be the best. Whatever it is I’m doing, it has to be a certain thing. It has to look a certain way. It has to have a certain quality.
Gold star, top of the class.
All the gold stars, every one of the gold stars. Yeah. And so I have a bottle of blue vervain tincture next to my harp when I practice. Because that happens a lot when I am playing music. I’m like it needs to be performance quality to be good.
The first time.
Yeah. And it needs to be performance quality to validate the use of my time to practice. And not the joy of playing some music, even if it wasn’t perfect. Oh no, not for me. It’s like well, in order to justify that I have taken time to practice, it needs to be like whatever. And so that’s why there’s blue vervain next to the harp. Because it deprograms all those things. And just says I just do this to relax a little bit, and because it’s good for humans to make music. If I don’t play anything right at all today, that doesn’t actually matter. It’s just joyous to make music. And so when you feel like whatever it is that you’re doing should be joyous, but you can’t allow it to be because of the pressure that you’re putting on yourself. That’s when I’m thinking about blue vervain.
Yeah. But, you know, do compare vervain with other bitter nervine plants like motherwort. When we did our motherwort episode a while back, I know that we referred forward to blue vervain. Because the two of them, I feel like they’re the closest in terms of flavor and in activity as nervines. I think those two are very, very similar. They make an excellent pair. But also you get bitterness from mugwort, from don’t forget St. John’s wort, right? Angelica is one of our favorite nervines in this establishment. Feverfew has a bitterness to it. Maybe the astringency is the most dominant thing with feverfew, but there’s a bitterness in there.
No, I think there’s quite a bit of bitter, yeah. And it’s a cold bitter.
Right, right. And then less bitter, but it’s there. And you with an herbalist’s palate, you can taste for it. You can find bitterness in betony, and in skullcap, and a lot of other ones too. So, you know, look for that. Try to consider that connection if you haven’t before or consider it again if you already have. Because that’s always worth doing as an herbalist.
And then think about these as pairs. When you pair blue vervain with each one of those herbs, how does it shift the actions of the vervain, right?
Oh, right. Yarrow. Absolutely.
Vervain and yarrow together, that’s really different from vervain and mugwort.
Yeah. Yes. So, that is a thought experiment that can keep you busy for the rest of the day, for sure.
An Important Winter Elixir Ingredient
Nice. But you know, these things we were talking about with the effects of blue vervain as a nervine, the effects of blue vervain as a bitter, as a bitter nervine specifically. That all kind of answers the question for why do you have this plant in your winter elixir, in your elderberry syrup? Because if you find one in our house, it should have vervain in there. If it doesn’t, it means that we forgot to add it.
No, they always have vervain. They always, always have vervain. And the simplest answer here is because it’s really hard to justify taking time off to rest, to recover, even though we’re herbalist. It’s really hard to say I’m not going to just take the laptop into bed and say that I’m resting. I’m like oh, I feel terrible today. I’ll just wrap up in a blanket with my laptop, and I’ll just work like that. No, you should just go to bed. Just go to bed. And whenever it is that you can go to bed, you should just go to bed. Maybe you can’t go to bed immediately. But whenever it is, you should just go to bed and not try to go to bed and work. And blue vervain is what lets that happen.
Yeah. It is really helpful. It is really helpful in that regard but also physically. It’s a relaxant. It’s relaxant enough and in enough places and, and far enough through your body that it’s like one of our relaxant diaphoretics. It’s not the same as elderflower. It’s not the same as lemon balm. But it is one where if you’ve got someone who’s fevering, but they’re shaking with the tension that they’re hugging onto. That they’re clenched around in a tight little curl. That’s me when I feel bad in a lot of these ways. Then yeah, vervain is really, really nice to include in there with your, again, with your elderberry remedy. With your – I don’t know – you could put it in fire cider I suppose. But you get that effect in there. You open things up. You release that tension. You allow heat to move around the body. You allow the fluids to flow. These are all part of the healing process. It’s a very handy plant.
I just noticed we’re talking about vervain and that’s the point at… When we really got going about vervain, that’s when I slouched against the counter.
Conjuring up the vervain energy and you’re like aaah.
Just relax against this thing, yeah.
Uh-huh, yeah. It’s funny because the plant itself is upright. It’s like I have arms that reach out and have candelabras on top of each one of them with little blue fires.
Yeah. A really amazingly beautiful plant.
Yeah. But it helps you to loosen up and slump a bit as necessary.
Yeah. This very upright plant will make it okay for you to slouch just a little.
But it is a really standout example of a general effect again. Which is that when you’re preparing a remedy for someone who’s having a fever, who’s having coughing, and sneezing, and sinus stuff, and all this respiratory infection acute illness symptoms going on, aches and pain, and insomnia, and everything altogether. Don’t be like oh, what I have to do is kill virus to make this person feel better, and that’s the extent of my job. So, elderberry is going to do the trick. Elderberry and garlic, there we go. We’re going to solve all your problems, right? Yes, okay. We want to fight virus. We want to wake up the immune system. We want to do all those things. But at the same time, how is the person’s mind in these moments, right? If we believe in a holistic approach to health and to the universe at large. And we believe that your mind and your body are not separate from each other. Then something that helps your mind to feel calmer while you’re having your flu, or your acute covid, or your whatever else going on. That’s just as important of a remedy. Yeah, all right.
Argh. So, those are vervain thoughts for you. And on our way out, why don’t we just advertise our Cold and Flu course. Which really, at this point we’ve thought about changing the name several times over years. Well, should we just call it Cold and Flu and Covid now? Should we call it Winter Respiratory Infections because this could also get you some help for things like RSV and even whooping cough and so on, right? When you’re dealing with the acute phase of an illness that got into your body through your respiratory system.
Acute respiratory illness. Yeah, something like that. This material is also included in the whole Respiratory Health course. So, if you take the Cold and Flu course, there’s a coupon at the end of it that will deduct the $25 for that course off the cost of the Respiratory Health course if you want to upgrade. But all of the acute stuff is in there. So, dealing with the fever, dealing with the crazy runny nose, or the opposite, the totally congested nose. Dealing with pain in the ears, with oh, my eyes are running because my cold is coming out my eyes, whatever. All of those things.
Yeah. As well as getting restorative sleep while you’re feeling sick like that, right? It’s a super critical part of the job. And then rebuilding your immune reserves directly afterwards and then for the long haul also.
As well as managing illness by yourself.
If you live by yourself, or you live with roommates who it’s not their job to take care of you when you’re sick or whatever. Or if you are the parent, and you are the one who takes care of everyone. And then you get sick, and there’s no one to take care of you. Sometimes that’s the way that households happen. Whatever of those situations, you need some tricks to be able to be sick and take care of yourself all at the same time. Because both of those things are a whole job. It’s a whole job to be sick. It’s a whole job to take care of a person who’s sick.
Like I was saying up at the beginning of this episode, right? There’s a huge difference between saying elderberry is good for the flu. And saying all right, here’s how you can get this stuff prepared in advance and easy to take. So that when you wake up, and you’re feeling horrible. You kind of slug yourself over to a thing, and you grab it and take it. Or mullein tea could be really helpful for this respiratory presentation. Okay. But when you feel terrible all day long, can we get it into a press pot or into a thermos? So that you make it once, and now you have tea all day. Things like that are about making herbalism real and really effective. So, you can learn that in that course. And like all of our courses, that includes video lessons as well as MP3s, if you want to take your learning on the go. We’ve got PDFs in there. We’ve got discussion threads attached to every lesson. We’ve got a community where you can come in and share your experiences. You get access to our weekly Q&A sessions twice a week. And you get lifetime access to all of this stuff because you can take your time.
Yes, there is no rush. You don’t have to put pressure on yourself. Just do it at your own pace. We try to make all of our courses very friendly across lots of different learning styles. Because it doesn’t feel good to be trying to learn something that doesn’t come into your brain in an easy way. So, we try to have video, and audio, and printed stuff, and live parts, and self-paced parts. So that whatever way is the easiest way for the information to get into your brain, is the way that it’s going to get there. And you know, it’s always a good idea to have a little blue vervain with you when you’re studying. Because that way you don’t have to have these hard expectations on yourself that learning should look a certain way. The way that learning should look is whatever way gets it into your brain. That is the only part that is important. It doesn’t matter if you do it while you’re standing on your head. It doesn’t matter if you knit while you learn. It doesn’t matter if you are a person who has to be moving to be able to learn something. Or if you do love flashcards and quizzing yourself that way, whatever. So, we try to accommodate all of those styles in all of our courses.
Yeah. So, you can find Cold and Flu as well as all of our other courses at online.commonwealthherbs.com. All right. We’ve been mulling over our vervain today.
That’s pretty good. So, we’ll be back with some more Holistic Herbalism podcast soon. Until then, take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. Drink some tea.
He always wants us to say it together, but I can’t do it. So, I’ll just say it afterwards. Drink some tea.
Drink some tea.
Everybody drinks some tea.
And mull your verve. Bye everybody.
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