Podcast 226: Herbs A-Z: Withania & Zanthoxylum

We’ve reached our penultimate Herbs A-Z episode this week, and we’re highlighting ashwagandha & prickly ash – it’s prickly ashwagandha!

Withania somnifera, ashwagandha, is an herb Katja takes every single day. Usually, she gets it in the form of “notCoffee”, a formula of various roots and herbs blended to offer sustained energy and endocrine suppport. Ashwagandha is popular as an adaptogen or a “stress herb”, but its real power is in helping entrain healty cycles of activity and rest. Balance is not about stillness, but dynamic equilibrium, and ashwagandha’s one of our favorites to build that capacity.

Zanthoxylum americanum, prickly ash, tells you all about its diffusive activity with the message of its tingly taste. This makes it not only an excellent herb for toothache relief, but also a truly fantastic circulatory stimulant. Stagnant blood and lymph are dispersed, and healing can proceed effectively, when we recruit prickly ash for this purpose.

These two herbs make recurrent apperances in both our Neurological & Emotional Health course and our Immune Health course. Improving innner communications, establishing consistent cycles, and enhancing fluid movement are just a few of the actions herbs can bring to these critical systems to support their work.

Neuro Emo

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Our theme music is “Wings” by Nicolai Heidlas.

Episode Transcript

Katja (00:13):
Hi, I’m Katja.

Ryn (00:14):
And I’m Ryn.

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

Ryn (00:19):
And on the internet everywhere thanks to the power of the podcast.

Katja (00:22):

Ryn (00:24):
Yes. And now I see a little cat hair on the microphone, and I want to pull it off. But I won’t because that would make weird sounds in your sensitive ears. Or your insensitive ears, whatever kind. You don’t need those weird sounds.

Katja (00:35):
I mean honestly, we have five cats and a dog. There’s cat hair everywhere.

Ryn (00:42):
We’re also good at vacuuming. Yeah. Hi, this is an Herbalism podcast. And today we’re going to talk to you about ashwagandha and prickly ash. Prickly ashwagandha.

Katja (01:01):
That’s fantastic. You have written in our notes here that this is our penultimate episode in our herbs A-to-Z. Of course, it is not every herb A-to-Z. It is just the herbs that we keep on the shelf, on the wall close at hand, because we work with them so regularly that we don’t have to sift through drawers to find them. But I just feel really excited anytime that you get to use penultimate in a sentence. It’s a good day.

Ryn (01:30):
The one before the last one.

Katja (01:31):

Ryn (01:32):
Not that our podcast is going to end. Don’t worry. We’ve got a whole bunch of new ideas for you.

Katja (01:37):
Actually, we do. We have some really exciting ideas. And I cannot wait. We’re going to do a series on different kinds of herbal businesses, and what you need to get them started. And what you would do in them and all that kind of stuff. I suggested to Ryn yesterday to do a series on too many tabs because we both have too many tabs open all the time. But they’re usually about research, either in human health or in herbalism specifically. And I thought it could be pretty fun to just talk about some of the tabs we keep open. And why we are excited about that study or that, whatever it happens to be. A monograph or something like that.

Ryn (02:24):
Where is that supposed to end up? Because usually the way it goes for me is like oh, I’ve got to keep this open because I want to get it into that course. I want to make sure the students get to see this, something like that.

Katja (02:33):
Yeah. I can’t close it till I put it into the Immune Health course or whatever. And then we have a bunch of other one-off topics that we’re really excited to talk about too. So, this series has been going on for a really long time.

Ryn (02:46):
It’s been a while, yeah.

Katja (02:47):
Much longer than we expected it to.

Ryn (02:51):
I mean, I could have counted in advance and known how many episodes it would be. But I did not, so.

Katja (02:56):
That would involve math.

Ryn (02:58):
So, that’s what happens. Here we are.

Katja (03:00):
Yeah. But no, it’s very exciting. We’re on the eve of a something.

Ryn (03:06):
Yeah, of a something. We’ll figure out what it is when we get there. One quick reminder before we get rolling on this episode is that we have an online school, and you can take courses with us. And you’ll find that at online.commonwealthherbs.com. Our courses are awesome. They have videos in them. That’s primarily what’s going on with that. You get to see us talk to you about plants and observe all of our entertaining facial expressions, as we try to mimic for you the experience of tasting centaury for the first time or, actually, squirting an entire dropper of prickly ash into your mouth.

Katja (03:44):
True, yes. It’s a fun party trick. Not just videos though. Since you are listening to us right now, possibly in your ears. If you’re watching on YouTube, then you’re listening with your eyes. But if you are listening on the podcast… Ryn just waved in a really funny way. But if you’re listening on the podcast, then you like to hear about herbal things in your ears. Every video in every course has a corresponding MP three file so that you can download them. Put them in your in your phone or whatever. And take them with you out into nature, or into your commute, or wherever it is that you listen to things. They all have lots of activities, and citations of papers, and worksheets, and journal prompts, and different things, quick guides. Everybody learns a little differently. And so we really want to produce materials in every course that cater to every type of learning. So, maybe not every single thing in the course is exactly your favorite way to learn, but that’s okay. You take the parts that speak to you and that are easiest for you to internalize. And for some people that’s going to be quizzes and capstone assignments. And other people are like yeah, that’s not actually my favorite way to learn. So, don’t worry. We’ve got it all. Yes. And so, take our online courses. It is the best way to support the podcast, to support the work that we do in the world. The podcast is part of our free outreach program. We also offer a free clinic. We offer some free courses, especially some starter courses like the Study Kit and Four Keys. But also the Community Toolkit, so that people can have access to safe, easy, and most importantly, easy to get ways to take care of community health.

Ryn (05:49):
Yeah. So, don’t let money be an obstacle. Come and start with the free courses and see what you can get out of that. We think it’s quite a lot. That’s our hope.

Katja (05:58):
Yes. Once again, online.commonwealthherbs.com.

Ryn (06:03):
Nice. Okay. And then we want to just remind you that we are not doctors. We are herbalist and holistic health educators.

Katja (06:10):
The ideas discussed in this podcast do not constitute medical advice. No state or federal authority licenses herbalists in the United States. So, these discussions are for educational purposes only.

Ryn (06:22):
We want to remind you that good health doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone. Good health doesn’t exist as an objective standard. It’s influenced by your individual needs, experiences, and goals. So, keep in mind that we’re not attempting to present a single dogmatic right way that you should adhere to.

Katja (06:39):
Also, you should be wary of people who are presenting that. That should be a red flag for you. If you’re listening to something. And people are like this is the one and only way. And especially if they are doing that from a righteousness standpoint. Then, you know, hey, maybe they still have good information but just listen really critically. Listen critically all the time. Wait, what was my line here? Everybody’s body is different. So, the things that we’re talking about may or may not apply directly to you. But we hope that they’ll give you some new information, some good information to think about, some ideas to research and experiment with further. And see if they apply to you in your life.

Ryn (07:19):
Yeah. Finding your way to better health is both your right and your own personal responsibility. This doesn’t mean you’re alone on the journey. And it doesn’t mean you are to blame for your current state of health. But it does mean that the final decision when you’re considering any course of action, whether it’s discussed on the internet or prescribed by a physician, that’s always your choice to make. Yeah, we like that. We’re into choice around here. Let us tell you. Sometimes we choose to work with ashwagandha.

Ashwagandha: Star of notCoffee

Katja (07:49):
Ashwagandha, an herb that you may know from its starring role in the notCoffee blend.

Ryn (07:56):
Yeah, if you’re a listener of our podcast. If you’re not, if you’re brand new, then hey, welcome. That’s cool. But you’re going to want this. So, we’ll put the link to a recipe, a formula for notCoffee in the show notes. I didn’t say the formula.

Katja (08:10):

Ryn (08:11):
Because this is flexible.

Katja (08:12):
Yeah, it’s super flexible. I make every batch of notCoffee a little different. And I do need to be clear that I never don’t have a batch of notCoffee on the stove.

Ryn (08:23):
You never don’t have it.

Katja (08:24):
I never don’t have it. Because I do drink it every single morning. And yeah, it’s not going to be exactly the same every day. So, there is a recipe in a blog post that is linked in the show notes.

Ryn (08:36):
But Katja, why is it called notCoffee?

Katja (08:38):
Oh, wait. Before I talk about that part, I have to say that that recipe has a lot of herbs in it. But you don’t need…

Ryn (08:47):
That’s the deluxe version actually.

Katja (08:49):
Yeah. That’s a super deluxe version. You don’t need all those herbs every time, and you may not want all those herbs every time. So, choose from that selection of herbs, the ones that best fit your body, best fit your needs, and also the ones that you have. You might not have one, and so don’t worry about it. Yeah. And it has also changed a lot over the years. Wait, what did you ask me? What is notCoffee?

Ryn (09:17):
Why is it called notCoffee? Because sometimes, sometimes a bit of coffee gets in there.

Katja (09:23):
It did used to. It does very rarely.

Ryn (09:25):
It’s happened a lot less. It.

Katja (09:26):
Very rarely, yeah. You know, it was about a year and a half ago, or maybe almost two years ago now. And we were really stressed out getting ready for the move. And things were just super-duper stressful. And I could not handle even a little bit of decaf coffee because my guts were a complete mess. And listen, just because you’re an herbalist, and just because you have herbs on your shelf all the time, and live your life with herbs every day, does not mean that a stressful time is never going to come. And that your belly is never going to be queasy and rumbly because of stress. Yeah, of course life still happens. You still feel cruddy sometimes. But anyway, at that point I did stop adding even decaf coffee to the mix.

Ryn (10:15):
You didn’t need more digestive stimulation, which you’re going to get from coffee. Because that’s not only happening from caffeine, right? Caffeine is a stimulant to your digestive system, just like it is to your nervous system and a few others as well. But also separate from the caffeine, coffee has those bitter elements to it. And especially the way you prepare it. Because like when people are using a drip filter, those paper filters actually…

Katja (10:39):
Or like a French press also.

Ryn (10:40):
French press a little bit less but yeah, for sure. But definitely with the paper filters, right? Those capture a lot of the bitter elements and reduce that.

Katja (10:48):
Oh, right.

Ryn (10:49):
They reduce that down, and so it’s not quite as present.

Katja (10:52):
Now with the French press, what I was thinking about is just either one of those methods, there’s not a lot of time for the water to be in contact with the coffee. And so both of those methods are looking at coffee as a caffeine delivery device and not as a complex herb with lots of different herbal actions.

Ryn (11:10):
Yeah. Get your chlorogenic acid. Get your bitter principles, right? All that cool stuff.

Katja (11:15):
So, when you make notCoffee, I boil and then simmer. Even if you do put coffee in there, decaf or regular, you are getting a lot more from the coffee than just the caffeine. So, I did. When I first started making notCoffee, I did put a little bit of coffee in there just to really give it an unmistakable coffee flavor.

Ryn (11:44):
And you’re making like two and a half quarts of fluid. And you put in a spoonful or two.

Katja (11:49):
Yeah. Like one or two soup spoons. Yeah, total. And also, you know, when I started making notCoffee, goodness, I don’t even know how long ago that was.

Ryn (11:59):
We’re winding back thinking through apartments that we lived in.

Katja (12:01):
Yes, exactly. Definitely before Dorchester. It was probably in Brighton sometime. So, that’s four locations ago. Yeah. So, in the beginning, reishi plays a really big role. And ashwagandha plays the most important role. Ashwagandha is actually the reason for the notCoffee because I needed more ashwagandha in my life. But in the beginning, I couldn’t really handle the flavor of reishi very well. So, I put one half of one reishi slice in there. And now I put 10 reishi slices in there. And so in the beginning I really needed a little bit of coffee to actually complete the coffee flavor. And now I do not in any way require that. But okay, so the ashwagandha.

Ryn (12:49):
The ashwagandha. The ashwagandha. Okay. So, you had… I’m trying to get back in time, right? Because it really did become a daily herb with the advent of the notCoffee, right? Before that you would take it every now and then.

The Drive for More Energy & When Everything is Out of Whack

Katja (13:06):
I usually would take ashwagandha via capsules when I was having trouble with sleep. And this is a point, actually, that we really want to talk about today, is that a lot of people think about ashwagandha in terms of getting more energy. And even just last week somebody sent an email asking about I’m looking for ashwagandha because I need more energy.

Ryn (13:30):
Yeah. Look, this is a completely common, normal thing for people to want. I want that too, frequently. I would love to have more energy. And I would also love to be able to – I don’t know – I guess, in a crude sense to be able to buy it.

Katja (13:48):
To get it for free.

Ryn (13:50):
Sure. Or even just like well, I can afford to get these ashwagandha capsules. And now I’m going to have more energy, hooray, right? There’s a whole lot of privilege and capitalism wrapped up in that kind of impulse. But a lot of us have it because hey, we grew up under capitalism. And so…

Katja (14:07):
Honestly, I also think that all of the desire for more energy is capitalism-driven too. Because either you want more energy because you’re falling asleep at the job. Or you want more energy because you gave all your energy to your job, and you would still like to do something for yourself at the end of the day.

Ryn (14:23):
Yeah, right. So, what I’m saying is this is a request to which we are very sympathetic. But the trouble is when someone goes and puts that request into the world. And the response they get is take ginseng, take eleuthero, take rhodiola, take this high powered ashwagandha product and see if that does it for you.

Katja (14:44):
Take a five hour energy shot with who knows what in it. Like variations of…yeah.

Ryn (14:48):
Yeah. Sleep when you’re dead. Until then caffeine, you know? Caffeine and stimulating adaptogens while we’re at it, right? Yes. That’s much more natural.

Katja (14:59):
Yeah. But the thing with ashwagandha is that it is an adaptogen. But not every adaptogen gives you more energy by kicking your adrenal glands into high gear.

Ryn (15:15):
Yeah. If ashwagandha kicks anything, it might be your thyroid.

Katja (15:19):
Maybe, yeah.

Ryn (15:20):
You get stimulation there.

Katja (15:22):
Yeah. Yeah.

Ryn (15:24):
And that can be really valuable. That can be the particular kind of stimulation that somebody really benefits from, right? But it’s also not the same as saying hey, adrenals. Make more adrenaline. Make a bunch of extra cortisol for me today. Why not?

Katja (15:39):
Right? When I think about all the really stimulating adaptogens, and also additionally things like coffee and cola nut and stuff that has caffeine in it. Those are two different categories of plants, but I’m going to put them together in this moment. I think about a drill sergeant with a really loud whistle right in your ear. Drop and give me 50. And you have to do it. And he’s just yelling at you, yelling at you, yelling at you. And that’s how I imagine these really super stimulating adaptogens and also the caffeine plants in the body. That’s my visual impression of them. When I think about ashwagandha, what I’m actually thinking about is a watch repairman. In my mind there is a steampunk watch shop with kind of low lighting but these really great lamps that are very focused on these teeny tiny gears. And the guy has the little ocular or monocle or whatever, so that he can see clearly the little, teeny, tiny gears.

Ryn (16:51):
The lenses you can flip in and out.

Katja (16:53):
Yeah, exactly. Right, right, right. And he’s got these super fine tools because the clock doesn’t keep time properly anymore. And he’s fixing the alignment of the gears so that the clock will keep time properly. That’s who I visualize when I think about ashwagandha, and also when I feel how it feels in the body. There’s no drill sergeant happening. It is not that kind of energy at all. Absolutely the kind of energy of my gears are out of whack. I’m not sleeping at the right time. I wake up too tired. When I wake up, I’m still exhausted. Nothing feels right. I wake up in the middle of the night, and I can’t get back to sleep. When I wake up in the middle of the night, I’m wide awake. Everything is just out of whack.

Ryn (17:47):
Ashwagandha, yeah. Right. Because the idea there is all of those gears are connected to one another. And you have a disruption in one or in several of them. And now the whole thing is not functioning the way it’s supposed to. It hasn’t stopped entirely.

Katja (18:00):
Right. It doesn’t stop entirely. Yeah. You are still going. You are still getting through days with varying degrees of grace.

Gradual Help with Clearing Out the Backlog

Ryn (18:07):
So, you know, people aren’t clockwork, but we do have a lot of intersecting parts, and functions, and actions. And when we think about the adaptogens, there’s different ways to consider it. And you can think about oh, it balances hormones. That’s like one very vague and generalized way to talk about it. Or you can say oh, it helps with the stress response. Yeah, sure, but how? And one way to start to think about that is to think about communication. And this is a nice way to connect it. Because sometimes you’ll read a scientific assessment of how do these things work if they do at all. And then it’s like oh, well maybe there’s some activity on these organs of the HPA axis. And these are central parts of the endocrine system. And they can affect a lot of other things in the body. And you think okay, but really what you’re saying is that it’s aiding in communications inside your system. It’s helping those signals to get where they need to go and to be received clearly. And that kind of activity is kind of at the root of it from that point of view at least.

Katja (19:08):
If you really want to flesh out that whole analogy, it would also include clearing out the old stale crud in the message cues in all of those systems. So, at the thyroid, at all the different parts of the endocrine system. I had a problem there because I’m like hold on. Everything is part of the endocrine system. I can’t list everything.

Ryn (19:39):
Shall we include the adipose tissue, and the bone, and all.

Katja (19:41):
Exactly, yes. Bone marrow. Yes. We can refer back to that time that the study came out and blew everyone’s minds about how bone marrow is potentially more actively involved in the hormonal aspects of the stress response than the stuff that we normally think of. Yeah, okay. Anyway. So, just imagine you are really stressed out. You’re in that place where you wake up, and you’re exhausted. It’s kind of like when your inbox has 12,000 emails that are unread. And you don’t even want to look at it. You’re just like three pages into the inbox there’s something important that I have to reply to. And I can’t even imagine how I’m going to find that because there are just way too many emails. Maybe you don’t get as many emails as I do, but we get a lot of emails. So, that’s why you’re so tired. You wake up, and all the processes have not completed. And so you wake up with a backlog. You wake up feeling like well, I didn’t sleep at all. And your body is like yeah, I didn’t get anything done over the past however many hours, you know? So, you do. You wake up with this backlog. And so it isn’t just making sure that all the different parts are communicated with each other, but also that aspect of clearing out backlogged work, catching up what needs to be catching up, just throwing away what you’re never going to get to, whatever. Metaphorically, yeah.

Ryn (21:20):
With ashwagandha it’s going to help the most a couple nights later. It’s not usually an herb where people take it, and they’re like I immediately feel different. I immediately feel this big shift in what’s going on for me. But if you can stick with it for a little while, then you might start to notice that you’re getting to sleep a little easier. You’re staying asleep a little longer through the night. You’re waking up a little bit more rested that starts to feed on itself. You wake up feeling a little better that day. You’re a little more focused. You feel a little better in your emotions. That helps just to keep the stress responses down. That helps you to get into good sleep again later that night, right? You continue onwards with that, and now you’re starting to feel a little more steady in your energy level through the day. Maybe at this point it’s on a physiological level you’re starting to have better control over blood sugar regulation, right? And so that’s like a literal instantiation of energy being available. And for you being able to access that when you need it, and store it when you need to, and all that kind of thing. And so when people start to work with ashwagandha for a while, they sometimes spontaneously change their sleep cycle a bit. Sometimes they spontaneously change their snacking habits. I’m not trying to make crazy promises, but we see that repeatedly. And it feels really different from I take this herb, and I get a rush. I feel zoomy. That kind of thing.

Katja (22:56):
You mentioned not immediate, and I think that part is super important. Ashwagandha takes a while to kick in. Which makes a lot of sense if you think about the backlog that you’ve got, right? It’s going to take a minute to get through those 12,000 emails. And even just to figure out which ones you can just delete, right, that takes a minute. And that’s why you’ve been avoiding doing it so long, Katja. Anyway, so even a few days is not necessarily enough to really feel the impact. I really like to tell people 30 to 60 days of really working with ashwagandha. And for ashwagandha also, the dose matters quite a lot. If you just drink one cup of decoction… Well, it is not super delicious. So, if you’re going to drink it as a decoction – which I do every day – you need to get a lot of other flavors in there that are appealing to you. Whether that is coffee-type flavors or chai-type flavors, both of those work really well.

Ryn (24:07):
You can put it into a root beer type of blend. If you start with sassafras, and sarsaparilla, and some ginger, and wintergreen, or birch, or whatever. You can put some ashwagandha in there.

Katja (24:15):
You would really bitter it up, though.

Ryn (24:16):
But maybe… yeah. I think the coffee base or the coffee inspired type of blend is a good way to go because you’re anticipating that bitter element there.

Katja (24:26):
Right. It’s expected, right? When you have a root beer flavor blend, you’re not expecting root beer and bitter. Yeah.

Ryn (24:35):
But, you know, you can try it. See what you think.

Dose Matters & Nightshade Substitutes

Katja (24:38):
You might like it. Absolutely. Everybody’s different. Yeah. So, okay, so length of time but also dose. A lot of people will get some ashwagandha capsules. And they’ll just get powdered ashwagandha in a capsule. And that’s not a sufficient dose. If you get that kind of capsule, your dose is going to be like five or 10 capsules a day. So, if you want to take ashwagandha in a capsule, then I really do recommend Gaia capsules. And boy, if they paid us to say that every time, we’d be so rich. But they do have a good way of concentrating the extract. And so it is a much higher dose with many fewer capsules so that you’re not just filling your belly with the little capsule things, the cellulose, because that’s pretty annoying. If you like ashwagandha as a powder, okay again, it’s not super delicious. But you would be better off mixing it in honey, or mixing it in something like peanut butter, or almond butter, or something. And taking it that way so that you can get a sufficient quantity of ashwagandha to be effective and not have to deal with a belly full of capsules. And the same with if you’re going to drink it as a decoction. If that is your only way of getting ashwagandha into you, then you’ll need to have more than one cup a day. Three cups at least a day. It is kind of a higher dose herb on balance. And it occurs to me that this happens every time we talk about ashwagandha, we leap right. In talking about all the awesome things about ashwagandha. And we forget to mention until the end – or in this case maybe somewhere in the middle – that ashwagandha is a nightshade.

Ryn (26:45):

Katja (26:45):
And so yes, all these awesome things, plus any awesome things that we say after this nightshade interlude. But if you are sensitive to nightshades, then ashwagandha is not awesome for you. It’s okay because there are other herbs who are awesome. If you can’t work with ashwagandha because of the nightshade aspect, then you might like tulsi, codonopsis, and maybe jiaogulan. If you can’t work with ashwagandha because it is too warming and too drying for your body, regardless of the nightshade one way or another, then you might prefer shatavari, or codonopsis, or astragalus.

Ryn (27:36):

Katja (27:39):
Honestly, or jiaogulan.

Ryn (27:40):
Yeah, you can give it a try and see how it feels for you. The nightshade thing, right, so that would be sensitivity that would include potato, and tomato, and peppers, and also by the way, tobacco. And we do include cayenne in the peppers just in case that didn’t come through. Bittersweet nightshade is a nightshade. Deadly nightshade is a nightshade.

Katja (28:02):
Yeah. Don’t take that.

Ryn (28:04):
Yeah. We advise this.

Katja (28:08):
And I picked those herbs because I was trying to formulate the actions of ashwagandha into herbs that are not ashwagandha. And in one group, I was not too worried about drying or warming or anything like that. Although that did not end up being a super drying group of herbs that I chose. And in the other one I was specifically trying to think of herbs that were moistening instead of drying, and cooling instead of warming. But in both groups of herbs, there are herbs that I’m putting together specifically to try to mimic as much as I can of the actions of ashwagandha.

Ryn (28:46):
Yeah. I don’t know. Ashwagandha doesn’t seem to have a rampant problem of drying people out way too much or heating them up way too much.

Katja (28:59):
No, it’s gently in both of those directions. But for somebody who has a lot of tension and a lot of dryness already. And maybe you’re like mild osteoarthritis, but maybe haven’t noticed any nightshade sensitivity. So, the nightshade part wouldn’t really be enough to necessarily push you off of it. I would still say okay, in that situation, that’s the kind of person who would be impacted noticeably and uncomfortably by the drying, warming aspect of ashwagandha. Whereas if you’re a person with my body. I’m cold and damp in my body, not always in my mind. And lax also. In my body I would never even consider ashwagandha as drying. It just doesn’t have enough…

Ryn (29:55):
It doesn’t quite register.

Katja (29:56):
Yeah. It’s got to be uva-ursi for me to feel like it’s drying.

Ryn (30:00):
Yeah. And I think a fair number of folks who work with ashwagandha, they’re getting it from Ayurveda-inspired preparations. And so they might be taking ashwagandha as a component of a turmeric milk drink, golden milk. That’s what people usually call it, yeah. But sure. Turmeric, and ginger, and chai spices, and a touch of clove, and why not put some ashwagandha into there, you know?

Katja (30:25):
I mean, if you like that kind of thing.

Ryn (30:26):
If that has the coconut milk and all that there, then that buffers the drying impact of those herbs pretty nicely. That’s good news. Turmeric is, I think, more drying than ashwagandha is, if anything.

Katja (30:39):
Yeah. More noticeably at any rate. Yeah. But just for some people, there are some people who say wow, this is really drying for me. Or especially if you are a person with hypertonic pelvic floor issues. That is usually the person who will be like this is uncomfortable for me. This is too drying for me.

Too Hot & Dry For Some

Ryn (30:59):
Yeah. I don’t want to write off the possibility of somebody getting uncomfortable with ashwagandha and not only for the nightshade intolerance problem. That one I feel like what you were raising, it really does manifest in joints more readily than other stuff. But we’ve had people report yeah, I took ashwagandha. I got headaches. It was a heat sign situation. That’s true. Not that it never happens, but less so than some other more fiery plants.

Katja (31:27):
Right. So, all these effects are not the more common effect. For the majority of people, these are not a concern. But they can be a concern, and it’s always good to know. So that, again, there’s no herbs for more energy. There’s no magic formula for a particular diagnosis. There’s none of that. Every single time it has to be customized for the person you’re working with, literally every time. And so if you are working with people who are on that end of the spectrum. Where, okay, these are all the situations where it would be a problem. Then you really have to pay attention to it. But that group is going to be smaller than the majority. What I’m trying to say is that I don’t want you to think it’s not safe to experiment with.

Ryn (32:18):
Right. I mean, I think we can just point to the fact that ashwagandha had a huge boost in popularity not that many years ago. And many, many more people are taking it all of a sudden and working with it in a whole variety of different ways and preparations and this and that. And adverse event reports are still really low.

Katja (32:35):
Right. So, it might not be the perfect match for your body. But the people who really feel uncomfortable with it do exist, but it is a smaller percentage. So, it’s important to note those things. But it should not turn you off from thinking well, I’m not in that group, so it’s probably fine for me to try this. Yes. It’s probably fine for you to try it.

Ryn (33:00):
Yeah. We had an episode quite a while back now. We started talking about the equinox and about thoughts about balance. And we rolled into talking about balancing herbs or herbs that are called amphoteric in herbalist speak. And we ended up speaking about ashwagandha a fair amount in there. So, I just kind of want to refer back to that a little bit. Because one of our main points there was well, balancing is a thing that can happen. But it’s relative to where you got imbalanced to. And how you’re going to come back to balance. And what that’s going to look like for you. And how it’s not one single point that never moves. But it’s something about dynamic equilibrium, and responsive fluctuation, and all of that kind of stuff. And that literally gets to why ashwagandha is popular for that purpose. Because it supports your capacity for fluid response to your environment. And so it is helpful for a lot of people. But what we’re trying to point out today is not literally everybody.

Katja (34:05):
Not literally everybody, yeah. No herb is right for literally everybody. It’s just not.

Ryn (34:11):
Which, you know, is important for many different types of podcast listener, right? If someone’s totally brand new to herbs. And they’re like well, I heard ashwagandha was great. But I took it, and I think something’s going wrong here. You don’t have to write off your experience just because you don’t see it written down everywhere or in many, many places. And that’s true for every herb. Any herb you can think of, somebody out there took it and was like ugh. This makes me feel terrible right away. And somebody else was like, this doesn’t do that stuff y’all are talking about. It just doesn’t do it. I don’t know what you’re saying. I don’t feel it at all.

Katja (34:46):
It doesn’t make me feel bad. It doesn’t make me feel good. It doesn’t make me feel anything. Yeah.

Ryn (34:50):
Yeah. That’s like one out of 10 and three out of 10 respectively. And so that leaves six out of 10 people to be like okay. This is just what it says on the box. That’s a rough estimate, but it’s something like that.

Prickly Ash: Tingly Tasting Fluid Movement

Katja (35:04):
Yeah. Well, prickly ash.

Ryn (35:09):
Well, prickly ash. Okay. So, does that mean then that there’s someone who will take prickly ash and be like no, it slowed down my circulation? Eh, probably not.

Katja (35:19):
Probably not.

Ryn (35:20):
No. I don’t think so. There are some limits to human variation in response to plants. Yeah, it’s a stimulant, right? It moves blood. You feel it right away because you taste it, and it makes a tingly pop rocks kind of situation.

Katja (35:35):
Right. I think it is better to say it moves fluids.

Ryn (35:40):
It moves… Well, it moves nerve signals too, right? That’s not exactly a fluid, but it’s a moving…

Katja (35:49):
It is a moving. A moving of ions. But I’m thinking about fluid in terms of it’s not just blood – although it does impact circulatory movement – but also lymphatic movement. And when you get that pop rocks feeling, the other thing that happens is that your salivary glands start producing.

Ryn (36:10):
Oh, yeah. Sometimes I’ll make a decoction, and I’ll put prickly ash in there. And I notice if I go a little heavy on it, then that’s the whole range of digestive stimulation. It’s not a bitter herb. But if your dose is right, then you can stimulate saliva, and stomach acid, and probably bile too. I wouldn’t be shocked. It sort of felt like that, maybe.

Katja (36:33):
Pancreatic juice.

Ryn (36:35):
It gets things moving.

Katja (36:37):
Yeah. And prickly ash is a cool herb because… The more experience you get with this, the more you will see that every herb does it. But when you are starting out, it is often very challenging to feel the action of an herb in your mouth. When you taste it to say I know what this does in the body. You can do that with every herb. I’m trying to think if there’s any outliers here. And the reason that you can do it is because when you taste things, that is a chemical reaction happening or a chemical reception happening. And so you are analyzing what you have taken in, and you are, your body is identifying various chemicals. Organic chemicals, but whatever. And then that data is interpreted to you as flavors or other kinds of sensations in the mouth. And so you have to learn to match up those flavors and sensations with the right sorts of actions that you would get from those chemicals. But that is absolutely something that you can learn to do, and that you can learn to be very good at. And the best way to learn it is to, when you are studying your material medica, and you are learning about the actions of the herb, consume the herb in every form you can get your hands on. But all by itself, not in formula, so that you are feeling oh yeah. This is warm in my mouth. Or oh yeah, this is a stringent in my mouth, or whatever it is that you’re feeling. It takes a while to develop that. Okay. But prickly ash is a really great one to start with when you are learning how to do this because it’s very unmistakable. You immediately feel fireworks happening in your mouth, just like a sparkler.

Ryn (38:38):
It’s not uncomfortable. It’s not painful.

Katja (38:42):
Yeah, fireworks is too much. I really mean a sparkler, you know? You just feel all the tingly bits. You feel the saliva starting to flow. You feel movement, like 100%, unmistakable movement on your tongue, in your salivary glands. Yes.

Ryn (39:00):
Yeah. And that activation and that tingle, it can, it can alter pain. It can alter the way that a pain signal gets up to your brain. So, another episode of the podcast I wanted to refer back to today was this one we did about herbs for toothache relief. And prickly ash is an amazingly excellent herb for that. I’d say at least as good as spilanthes. Which, you know, spilanthes is called toothache plant because well, it really helps. But yeah, prickly ash does too. And it’s kind of like all of that tingling and all of that activity is going on. And it’s like the pain signal is kind of swamped out, swamped out by some static.

Katja (39:45):
Except I have problems with the word swamped out because prickly ash is the opposite of a swamp. It’s mountain streamed out.

Ryn (39:55):
It’s flooded away. Yeah. No, that’s true. That’s better.

Katja (39:58):
It’s washed away. Yeah. Some things do get swamped out, like flooded with whatever. But then you’re imagining a stillness.

Ryn (40:10):
Because It doesn’t stay there. It’s going to then move out. Yeah.

Katja (40:13):
And so prickly ash, if we’re going to be super fussy about our adjectives here.

Ryn (40:18):
Yeah. We are.

Katja (40:21):
Then it’s mountain streamed. It’s flushed away.

An Immune Stimulant & Effective Catalyst

Ryn (40:28):
Yeah. So, that sensation of the tingly feeling on your tongue or on the nerves. And that activity of that movement and that movement away, and out, and through, and around. They make a tight connection to each other. But we were just having this discussion amongst our faculty about diffusives. And there was a video where I was talking about diffusives, and about how with prickly ash, and with spilanthes, and with echinacea you get that tingly sensation. And it really just screams to you, I am a diffusive herb. I’m going to make blood and other fluids move out and away from this spot and circulate around really well. But you and Kenton were just pointing out well, it’s not only tingly herbs that have that action.

Katja (41:22):
Right. There are lots of herbs who do this. Diaphoretics do it even if they aren’t tingly. But there are different mechanisms of action involved. And so often diaphoretics are actually doing it through the relaxation of muscle tissue. And that’s really different than prickly ash doing it by the stimulation of fluid movement.

Ryn (41:45):
Yeah, right.

Katja (41:47):
And you know, that fluid movement stimulation is going to carry us right into the immune stimulant action of prickly ash.

Ryn (41:56):
Ash, because there’s stuff in your fluids. There are little wiggly things in there.

Katja (42:02):
All of your responders, 100% of your immune response involves fluids and the movement of fluids. Because you can’t get your responders to the area if you don’t have your fluids moving. But you can’t even call the responders to the area if you don’t have your fluids moving. And once they get there, they can’t really do their job if you aren’t removing the trash from this work. And that’s fluid movement. So, the bumper sticker here is that immune stimulation is not always about more white blood cells. In this case, it is about the movement of fluids, so that your immune system can get where it needs to be to do the work it needs to do.

Ryn (42:48):
Yeah. Prickly ash is like a polyvalent stimulant. It’s a circulatory stimulant. It’s a nerve stimulant. It’s an immune stimulant.

Katja (42:58):
Lymphatic stimulant.

Ryn (42:59):
But these are not separate things because it’s interconnected systems. They’re all touching each other. And prickly ash is helping with the fluid to move around. And that helps the immune responders to get where they need to go. And you get that zingy movement through the nerves. And that’s also a way we communicate what’s needed from one part of the body to another. So, yeah. It gets things flowing. And that’s one way to think about that plant in the context of other herbs. So, if you have this herb in a formula, usually its job is to be a catalyst, to bring in that impulse of movement, and flow, and getting from one place to another, and helping other herbs to deliver their activity a little more extensively in the system. So, when people are learning herbal formulation, one of the methods that’s often taught – and we teach this as well – is to think about a triangle. And you want to have three points of your triangle. That might be one herb at each point, or it could be several together. But you’re going to have kind of your primary herb doing the major job. It’s the most directly relevant to the action you’re trying to accomplish. And then you have some supportive herbs. And those might be enhancing action in a connected system. Like maybe you have a liver focused primarily. And then you get some kidney herbs in there at the same time because they’re working together. It all fits together like that. But then you want a catalyst as well.

Ryn (44:31):
And this is the place where students are always like what even am I doing? What do I want? What is an herb that does that? What are we looking for? And for a lot of situations, the easiest thing to start with is to talk about well, something hot, right? Throw some cayenne in there. You feel some catalyst now? You feel more movement in your formula? You feel more activity when you take some drops of that? And it’s like okay, that’s very straightforward. And then people get stuck there. And they’re like catalysts, cayenne. Or maybe a bunch of ginger. Sure. Something else that’s pungent and spicy, right? But an herb like prickly ash or those other tingly plants, these are also really, really good catalysts. Or an herb like damiana, which isn’t tingly but is a nice diffusive. That’s another one that I often find myself including in that part of the formula. And that can be for all kinds of formula. That doesn’t have to be one focused on blood movement or one focused on immune stimulation, right? It could be in a nice alterative blend. It could be in something focused on digestive function. There are lots of different reasons why that might be called for there.

Katja (45:38):
Yeah. There’s a lot of ways to think about formulating. And I read an article a little while back where somebody was totally dissing the triangle method. And they were like oh, it’s too simplistic and whatever. And I mean, whatever method works for you so that you get all your bases covered. And you don’t end up with just a plain old kitchen sink of I don’t know. Every herb that Google told me is relevant to the immune system, I’m just going to put it in here. Whatever method works for you to refine your choices and make sure that everything is working towards your specific intent for this specific person. And regardless of what system you use to build that kind of formula, you are still going to need something to get stuff moving. Occasionally you get stuff moving by relaxation because you are removing the barrier to movement. But in this case, prickly ash, maybe there’s a lot of laxity in this person. Maybe there’s a lot of stagnation. Yes.

Ryn (46:49):
Yeah. As long as you’re not getting so rigid about the way you apply your structure that it blinds you to a moment when you need to bend some of those angles a little bit.

Katja (47:03):
Round ’em off a little, yeah.

Ryn (47:05):
Nice. Okay. Well I think we can wrap it up with that. In closing today I always try… For this whole series, I’ve been trying to think of is there a course where we talked about both of these plants together? Is there a time when they follow each other in the alphabet, but they also happen to be connected in some way. And I feel like with our discussion today, we kind of had that theme of you don’t always get more energy by just being directly stimulated. You don’t always get better immune function by just making your white blood cells wiggle faster. There are ways that we can achieve those ends because all the systems are connected to each other. And so I feel like that just really yells out about the Neurological Emotional Health course and about the Immune Health course. Because so much of what we wanted to get across in both of them was to see how these different pieces are connected. How your literal nerve state and your feels ethereal kind of emotional state, they’re all happening in the same body at the same time, you know? Or how with immunity it’s not always about kill the invader. But what are the different layers of defenses that we’ve got, and which ones have weak spots right now? So, really in theme with both of those.

Katja (48:24):
Yes. Well, you’ll find our Neurological and Emotional Health course, which covers everything from MS, and Parkinson’s, and managing issues with the actual function of the nerve cells all the way through to emotional health, psychological health, mental health. All the different ways that we talk about the stuff that we don’t think about in terms of physiological nerve cell function, even though it is related. But often sort of in pop culture we don’t think about it in that way. So, depression, and anxiety, and all that good stuff. So, that’s in the Neurological and Emotional Health course. In the Immune Health course we are covering not just colds and flu and that kind of work but also inflammation, and keeping inflammation in a goldilocks place, and managing inflammation that has gotten too high. Also, a lot of the foundations for doing work with chronic illness and autoimmune diseases, it lives in the Immune Health course. And both of these courses reference ashwagandha and prickly ash.

Ryn (49:33):
It’s true. They’re in there. Like all of our courses, these are centered on video lessons. But like we said up at the top today, we also have MP3s, so you can take them on a nice walk in the woods, or by the seaside, or wherever you happen to hang out. There are PDFs in there with supporting materials for you. Each lesson has an attached discussion thread where you can watch a video, have a question, post it right up in there, get an answer within a day from our faculty, and keep on learning as you go. We also have a community for discussions a little more freeform and for people to bring their successes, and their experiments with herbs, and their particular favorite ways to work and play with them.

Katja (50:13):
And that is a private community. It is not hosted on Facebook or social media. It is private. So, if you have the desire to scroll, but find Facebook to be unhealthy for your mental health, then you can join our community where it’s all nice people talking about nice things.

Ryn (50:30):
Yes. And you also get access to some weekly, twice a week Q&A sessions with us. So, you can ask your questions there as well.

Katja (50:38):
It’s more than twice a week at this point.

Ryn (50:40):
That’s true.

Katja (50:41):
We have twice a week for general student body questions. And then we also have special sessions just for the advanced students in the clinical program. And then we have a session also for international students in different time zones. And it’s getting to be a full dance card of Q&A sessions.

Ryn (51:01):
Yeah. It’s been really good. There’s been some fun questions lately. Oh, yeah. And that also includes access to an archive of previous sessions of Q&A. By this point there are a hundred and something?

Katja (51:12):
No. It’s like 300 hours.

Ryn (51:14):
Yeah. There’s kind of a lot in there.

Katja (51:15):
It’s a lot of Q&A archives. Yeah. And they’re all curated. So, there’s table of contents that you can flip through and just find the topics that are most important to you. And then you can go to that section of the video.

Ryn (51:31):
Yeah. And if it feels like that might take a while, and you’re worried that the clock is ticking on you. Don’t worry because our courses come with lifetime access.

Katja (51:39):
No clocks are ticking. Nope. In fact, every time that we make updates to the material, they show up in your account for free. So, not only do you get it for your whole life – it’s never going to go away – but also you get more. Just a constant trickle of new stuff coming in all the time. Hey, where can you get all of that awesome stuff?

Ryn (52:00):
Oh, yeah. We should probably tell them. We should probably tell them to go to online.commonwealthherbs.com. Because that’s the place.

Katja (52:07):
Yes. online.commonwealthherbs.com.

Ryn (52:11):
Yes. Okay. That’s it for today. Thanks for listening. Take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. Drink some tea.

Katja (52:20):
Drink some tea.

Ryn (52:22):
And oh something clever. We already did…

Katja (52:25):
Write us a review for the podcast because you love it. If you are still listening right now, you love our podcast. So jump on in there. Write a review. Tell people how much you love it. That actually really helps other people find it. Thank you so much.

Ryn (52:38):
We appreciate it. Goodbye.

Katja (52:41):


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