Grassroots Healing, Plant Medicine

Learning to converse with Pain and understand it’s language.

A Primer for the Post-Opioid Age.

 

Friday 26/07/2019

Last night I woke suddenly from a seizure of sleep paralysis that had made me feel trapped inside my own head. My brain felt drained and sore, like the top of my head had come off and everything was leaking out. I’ve had these episodes many, many times before over the last twenty odd years. The nature of the seizure changed about 4 years ago, but now on rare occasions when I’m all together exhausted, stressed-out, dehydrated, and have had sugar, one will come along and render me useless for a day or two. The episode itself is terrifying, exhausting, and traumatic, but the pain afterward is almost unbearable, as my already acute senses are heightened with the shock, only to be then bombarded with every usually inaudible sound around me. Pain is something every human suffers with at some point in their life – whether it is physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual – it hurts, and it makes us stop in our tracks. We either hold our breath hoping it will pass while our body frantically produces endorphins to try and numb it, or we numb it with external aids like drugs, alcohol, or whatever vice we have on hand. At best this just supresses the pain, and the underlying cause waits for the right conditions to align again when it can scream at us and try once more to get our attention. At worst, we continue to numb it and ignore what it’s screaming and end up either addicted to the drugs or with some degenerative and possibly terminal condition, or both.  Some of us are good at ‘relaxing into it’, or ‘breathing into it’, and this is also useful to a degree (it has particular merit during childbirth). But at some point, we just have to sit with it, and to really listen to what it’s actually telling us. Last night, while waiting for the cannabis root balm that I’d applied all over my head to take effect, I did exactly that.

As herbalists, more often than not we prescribe herbs for pain based on the nature of the pain itself – for example if someone presents with cramping in their gut, we may make up a formula with Wild Yam in it – which we call a spasmolytic, because it relaxes the spasms occurring in the gut, to which it has an affinity for. For period pain, we may also prescribe a formula with Crampbark in it – again because as its name suggests, it helps relax spasms and cramping – particularly in the smooth muscle fibres of the uterus. Sometimes we may also prescribe more general anodynes – or pain-relieving herbs – like Jamaican Dogwood, or Willow bark. These are all great and effective, and I use them as well, but we can easily fall into the reductionist trap of ‘here, you have a headache, take this generic pill that I give to everyone with a headache’. In our sometime anxious efforts to relieve the suffering of another, we can sometimes forget to check not only the nature of the pain, but what is actually causing it. Why is the uterus cramping? Why does my head pound at times, yet at other times I have sharp shooting pains radiating through it?

As I was contemplating all of this last night, I realised that the current iatrogenic (man-made) epidemic of opioid addiction, and antibiotic misuse and abuse fed this mindset of prescribing just to numb and supress. If we look at the energetics behind our medicines and the correlating energetics inherent in our physical makeup and the language through which our bodies communicate, both opiates and antibiotics are energetically very cold. Opioid drugs – originally derived from the Opium poppy – are ‘cold in the fourth degree’, according to the ancient Greco-Arabic system of medicine (and across most traditional systems of healing). This ‘cold in the fourth degree’ means that they can sedate someone to the point of death because cold is the absence of heat, or life. This category of medicines should only be used wisely and with great skill, matching with the persons own level of vital reserves. Modern antibiotics are the same energetically – literally the name means ‘anti-life’. So, the flagrant and unskilled use of both of these class of medicines can result in the cold/depression(as in lack of functionality) tissue state. This tissue state then makes a nice environment for opportunistic infections to move in. In the mental sphere, we might equate this with apathy, lack of interest in life, lack of motivation. In this state of apathy, we might lose our ability to discern and so we become more ‘suggestable’ and susceptible to things that in the end, aren’t really in our best interest. Cold is also constricting. In the mental sphere, this can equate with a chronic introspection to the point of narcissism. How well does this tissue state describe our Western culture just now?!

In the practice of holistic herbal medicine, we are in the unique position of having access to a vast materia medica of plants that may not seemingly be related to the nature of the pain itself but can effectively relieve that pain, largely by addressing the underlying cause.The pain, like most symptoms of the body, is the language used by the innate intelligence to tell us and direct us to a more specific and long-lasting remedy. In this regard, we are working with the body, rather than against it or simply ignoring its pleas. Learning to listen to this language, to understand the language of pain in particular, tells us a great deal about what’s actually going on. And, it has a lot to do with the energetics – again something that is peculiar to holistic herbal medicine across all traditions – including the Western tradition. Let me illustrate this concept with the example of processing the language of my own pain.

As I sat with my pain last night and began to listen to it, to really feel it, I felt an ache, a dull but belligerent, all-encompassing draining ache. I instinctively cradled my head in my hands, as if creating a helmet that would hold my brain in. In technical jargon, we might say that my pain was ‘better for pressure’. I reflected on all of the pain that I had suffered through in my life, and for me, it is always relieved by pressure. I began to process why a pain might be ‘better for pressure’, and my thoughts immediately went to the First Aid principle of applying pressure to a bleeding wound. This action not only ‘clamps’ the blood vessel/s effected, but also shunts the now restricted blood flow into the surrounded capillary beds, which can expand up to forty times, thus reducing the flow of blood from the original wound. In the tissue state model, or underlying energetics of the tissues, this free, unrestricted blood flow (in the case above, from an injury), we refer to as damp/relaxation. There is no tone or restriction to hold the blood or the fluid in (until we apply pressure, or an astringent to tighten the tissue, or a circulatory stimulant to diffuse the blood into the surrounding capillary bed). If this damp/relaxation state is left unchecked it can lead to dry/atrophy– or a withered, malnourished state with loss of function. I note that these ‘seizures’ that I have often occur when I am really stressed and dehydrated. Therefore, the pain is worse when dehydrated. Already we can see a pattern; things dry out when there is too much relaxation of the tissue and there is excessive fluid loss that can’t be replenished at the rate that it’s being lost. Instead of just drinking a glass of water, which may help, we also need to address the underlying cause of the relaxed tissue tone. We have a class of herbs here with an Astringent action that work to tone and tighten the tissue, and we also have a class of herbs with Moistening qualities that help to rehydrate the intercellular and intra-cellular fluids throughout the body and help maintain that moisture.

At the same time, as we have damp/relaxation, this can cause pooling in some areas and contribute to damp/stagnation. For example, we often see this manifest as varicose veins. The vein walls lack the tone to effectively allow the blood to move along, and so the vessel may ‘kink’ and the blood begins to pool. The damp/stagnation tissue state can then lead to the cold/depression tissue state because there is no movement. In these tissue states, we need to use herbs that stimulate and move the flow of blood and fluid. These herbs generally also have a very warming quality, thereby returning vital heat to the area. An example of this particular type of pain may be with period pain. The uterus may feel aching and crampy, but also congested and boggy, it feels better for a hot water bottle and a back rub (again, note the need for pressure to diffuse some of that congestion). The cramping is coming from a damp/stagnation and cold/depression tissue state, rather than just spasm. The spasm of the smooth muscle tissue may be seen as a knee-jerk response to these underlying tissue states, as the body tries to create some sort of heat through the movement, as well as responding to a diminished flow of nutrient. We might use ginger here, as a tea, in tincture, or infused in oil and made into a balm to rub onto the abdomen, or added to a nice warm bath.

As our perception of pain is transmitted through nociceptors (or pain sensors) on the end of the nerves, we should be aware that the nerve endings are also influenced by the basic quadrune of life – the meeting point between capillary, extracellular matrix, cell, and lymph vessel. The integrity of this unit, of how well the flow through this inner ocean occurs, I believe reflects the type of pain we feel. For example, if an area of tissue is drying out, the nerve endings here will sense this, and the insulating properties of the myelin sheath will also begin to wither and leave them more exposed and more sensitive. Like a rocky shore at low tide, all of the rocks below the shoreline are now exposed to the elements. They are vulnerable. And over time, as the tides and seasons and climates change, a certain amount of erosion can set in. To me this feels like an ache. One might think a longing of things lost (dry/atrophy – although pain that occurs due to dry/atrophy I find to sometimes also exhibit a sticking like quality, due to a lack of lubrication.), rather than the burning passion of things anticipated – the pain of heat/excitation. The pain of heat/excitation (where there is too much friction or irritation, or too much blood) can be sharp and shooting or tingling, as in nerve pain, when the nerve is either severed or impinged, or pounding and throbbing when the blood is high, thick, and fast. Here I think of a strike of lightning, and the contrast to a hot desert sun beating down relentlessly on hapless explorers. The pain of heat/excitation may also more likely be tender to the touch. In both of these tissue states, we might also see damp/stagnation, or dry/atrophy as contributing factors, although heat/excitation can lead to a literal burning up of the fluids causing dry/atrophy. In the case of heat/excitation, we look to herbs that are cooling, and sedating. Many members of the Rose family find value here.

The last tissue state, which is perhaps partly most familiar, in terms of a general sense of pain, is wind/tension.The wind here denotes symptoms that change suddenly or alternate (such as with the alternating constipation and diarrhoea of Irritable Bowel Syndrome). Tension simply means just that. This is the pain often associated with bloating and gas in the gut. Or a true tension headache after a stressful day at work staring at a computer screen and dealing with uncooperative or demanding colleagues or customers. A pain typifying tension will be one of spasm, as opposed to the tension we create in ourselves when we hold our breath or hold in our emotions. It may also feel stretched, like a guitar string that has been wound too tight, or a belly that has just received a really big meal. It can also arise from the previous tissue states. Oftentimes, wind/tension arises from dry/atrophy as tissues start to dry out and harden or become rigid. For example, recently I supported a woman who needed a knee replacement. The tendon behind the knee that was being replaced was incredibly tight and caused a great deal of pain, in fact it had caused more pain than the actual knee which had, by the time I saw her, become bone on bone! The reason for the knee replacement was due to osteoarthritis, which I assessed was due to the dry/atrophy tissue state, caused largely by damp/relaxation and wind/tension (according to her constitutional pattern and an extensive case history). I gave Solomon’s Seal – a moistening herb that relaxes or tones tendons as needed, and she was able to find great relief, to the point where she noticed a difference when she had run out and needed another bottle. Her recovery from the knee replacement operation was also notably quicker than usual. However, generally speaking in this wind/tension type of pain, we do rely heavily on herbs with direct relaxing qualities, or herbs that directly affect the nerves.

In all of this ‘pain language’ of the six tissue states, we also want to juxtapose it with our individual constitution, as I described in the case above. We may have a tendency to lean in a particular energetic or elemental direction, and this may determine the way we perceive the pain and how it manifests. For example, I am a typically cold person, leaning toward dryness and nervous tension. In the Ayurvedic tridoshic system, I am predominantly Vata (a combination of the elements of air and aether/space). So, my pain will more often than not come from an underlying cold, dry condition. I need warming, moistening, astringent, and nerve nourishing herbs, that are also grounding. Currently, I am taking a formula that I made consisting of:

Agrimony (astringent, relaxing) – my constitutional remedy, Wood betony (circulatory stimulant to the brain, grounding, protective, astringent, relaxing), Skullcap (nerve nourishing, relaxing), Milky Oats (moistening, nerve nutrient), Sage (warming astringent, balances fluids, help assimilate the essential fats).

I also drink a chai or a Tulsi (relaxing, warming, adaptogen) tea with ginger (moistening, warming) every day. And once or twice/week I drink a cold infusion of marshmallow root, which is deeply hydrating. Because hydration should also include how well we use oils in our body, I usually eat a lot of good quality fats and use sesame oil on my skin. For acute situations like last night’s experience, we still want to match the acute remedy with what’s going on (e.g: when some women instinctively reach for the hot water bottle)I used cannabis root infused in olive oil and made into a balm because 1.) it is warming, 2.) it is anti-inflammatory and 3.) it does have relatively immediate analgesic and anxiolytic (anxiety reducing) and sedating properties, and 4) when infused in oil it also takes on the moistening and nerve-insulating properties of the oil.

When we consider pain, not only do we look at the tissue state, the overall constitution, the type of pain itself, but we also consider its: a) Onset – was it the result of an injury? (here we would consider first aid herbs for bruising and wound management, and if it began with an injury then it’s wise to give the herb we would have given at that time), when did it begin? What was happening in our life at the time? (In the example of my situation, I could see that I had been under a fair bit of stress, and had too many late nights, and wasn’t keeping up my hydration levels); b) Palliation/Provoke– that is, is there anything that makes it better (eg: pressure, warmth), or worse (eg: dehydration, stress, cold, touch, etc); c) Quality– what does the pain actually feel like (dull ache, sharp or shooting, congested, hot, cold, throbbing, tight, etc?); d) Radiates– where is the pain actually and does it radiate or travel anywhere else? This tells us a lot about the tissues, organs, or systems effected and helps us choose herbs that have an affinity for these particular areas. For example, this is quite evident with gallstone colic. Gallstones can form due to a number of reasons, such as congestion in the liver, heat in the liver, tension in the ducts, or drying out, and inactivity (remember the six tissue states?). Gallstones caused by dryness (due to too much heat in the liver) can be seen manifested in dry skin and hair throughout the body, and particularly if the skin of the right temple feels a bit rough like fine sandpaper. The pain associated with this may radiate from the area up through the back between the shoulder blades and over the head to the right temple. In this situation we need to cool and decongest the liver, and rehydrate the tissues; e) Severity– how severe or debilitating is the pain on a scale of 1 (mild) to 10 (extreme torture)? This tells us how much the area is affected, as well as providing a good way to measure how effective our treatment is; f) Timing– when, how often, and how long does the pain occur? Does the pain occur at various times of the day? After eating? Is it effected by seasonal changes, or changes in position, movement etc? This can help us determine if the pain is due to allergies or intolerances, as well as contributing food, lifestyle, or environmental factors; g) Concomitant symptoms– what else is going on with the pain? Constipation or diarrhoea, nausea, excessive or scanty urination, bleeding, etc?

Asking good questions and making observation of how we also instinctively respond to the pain (amongst our general observations of the complexion and feel of the skin, looking at the tongue, the eyes, and feeling the pulse) can give us a tremendous amount of useful information for not only being able to understand what the body is trying to tell us about its interior health status, it can also point us to selecting very specific remedies and treatment plans.

The formula that I made for myself, listed previously, will not look like a formula I might make for someone else because I’ve formulated it for my specific needs. None of the herbs I’ve used are specifically pain-relieving. This is the beauty of herbal medicine, that we can really make our remedies specific, not just for the pain but for the person as a whole, and sometimes we don’t need to use blanket pain-relieving herbs at all. Even our acute remedies can be more specific than “here, take a neurofen”. When we combine this with sound dietary and lifestyle habits (something which I fell back on and thus suffered for last night), we can affect positive, lasting change.

To summarise the flow of thought that I’ve written above, I’ve put together a simple chart highlighting the tissue states, the types of pain that may be felt arising from each one, the various virtues that we look for in herbs to remedy these, and some examples of these herbs. It is certainly not a comprehensive chart, just a quick overview to show that we have a range of herbs at our service to help with pain that speaks to us from a multitude of reasons. We might also consider herbs specific for nerve pain itself (sharp, shooting, tingling) such as Saint John’s Wort and Prickly Ash, as well as nervines (herbs that act specifically on the nervous system) for supporting the stress of living with chronic pain. These herbs not only include the more sedative herbs like passionflower, skullcap, and lavender but also adaptogenic herbs (herbs that help the body recover from and handle chronic stress) such as Ashwagandha, Tulsi, Eleuthero, and Reishi.

I hope that in my dull-ached and semi-functional ramblings I have been able to encourage you to see a way beyond the current opioid crisis and the modern view that nothing else can be done. Plenty can be done to alleviate people’s pain! We just need to learn to listen and take a wider view. If you are suffering from pain and would like to explore this way of approaching it, I encourage you to visit a herbalist to help you J

 

Tissue State Types of pain that may typify this. Medicinal Virtues Needed. Examples of herbs.
Heat/Excitation Hot, tender, throbbing, pounding, burning, sharp, shooting, intense. Cooling

Sedative

Rose

Hawthorn(cardiovascular)

Linden flower

Peach leaf

Chamomile

Yarrow

Lemon balm

Lavender

Peppermint

Passionflower

Catnip

California poppy

Yellow dock

 

Cold/Depression Dull, sometimes pins and needles type pain. Stimulating, warming. Ginger

Rosemary

Prickly Ash

Saint Johns Wort

Cayenne

Cinnamon

 

Damp/Relaxation Ache, sometimes a bearing down pain, can lead to spasm and twitch. Astringent (tightening and toning). Agrimony

Raspberry leaf

Blackberry leaf

Herb Robert

Ladies Mantle

Yarrow

Sage

Damp/Stagnation Congested, boggy, full, sometimes bearing down, sometimes dull and achey especially after sleep. Can be inflamed. Stimulant, warming, diffusive, circulatory stimulants, alteratives/blood cleansers, cooling diuretics (if hot and inflamed). Cayenne

Ginger

Black pepper

Prickly Ash

Rosemary

Turmeric

Cinnamon

Yarrow

Angelica

Celery seed.

Nettle

Yellow dock

Cleavers

Dry/Atrophy Sticking, crackling, stiff, a pressure type pain as tissue rubs against other tissue with no lubrication in between. Demulcent/moistening, emollient (softening and moistening) Solomon’s Seal

Marshmallow

Slippery elm

Violet

Red clover

Burdock

Liquorice

Wind/Tension Changes suddenly or may come and go, spasm, cramp, tight, stretched, tension, twisted and unable to relax. Relaxing, nerve nourishing, carminative. Agrimony

Wild Yam

Chamomile

Ginger

Fennel

Crampbark

Magnesium salts

Cimicifuga

Valerian

 

Many Blessings,

Michelle x

 

 

Grassroots Healing, Musings, Reflections, Spirituality, Plant Medicine

Consider the Lily: blissful blue Nymphaea.

 

To be engaged by the livingness of nature, the person chosen to walk the green path of healing begins their journey by following the call of a plant. For many, we come to this path through a need for our own healing, and subsequently Veriditas enters into us via whichever plant we first engage with. Along the way our paths are shaped by various plant allies, teachers who remind us of who we are and what we are made of, and where we need to be going.  The following account introduces you to one of my plant allies. My power plant if you will. The first account was written a year ago after my first meeting with the plant. The second part explores its nature more deeply and comes from our second, more recent, meeting. A different sort of monograph develops and will continue to develop as I go to sit with it on an annual pilgrimage.

IMG_3839
Photo taken by M. Carnochan 2019.

The First Encounter.

“My beloved went down to his garden. To the beds of spices, to feed his flock in the gardens, and to gather lilies.”  (Song of Solomon 6:2)

There are plants of power that inhabit this world. Some might think of Cannabis or Ayahuasca or Iboga, or any one of the so-called entheogens that alter consciousness and take you on journeys to kaleidoscopic worlds of cosmic awakening. But in truth any plant might be a plant of power. For some, it might be as commonplace as nettle, or dandelion, or daisy. Rather than how many alkaloids, or psychoactive principles a plant may have, a plant’s power perhaps lies more so in where on your journey it meets you, how it speaks to you, and as equally importantly, your receptivity and response to it.

Almost always, the plant draws you to itself first, and capturing your attention, it begins to sing to you. Your receptivity to its song may be a tiny crack in the door, a trepidatious curiosity that looks past the chain and says, “Um, okay. I’m ready.” But are you truly ready? Do you then just lunge at it, ripping its metaphoric shirt off, expecting it to give you everything and when it does you’ve lost your mind, or do you tread carefully, respectfully, fully aware that it wants to teach you to come home to yourself and you must be willing to let it lead?

So, you check yourself, and when you are truly ready, truly receptive, you allow the plant to determine that first move. It begins to gently caress and coax, and whisper of promised ecstasy as it begins to open those parts of yourself that once for whatever reason, you had closed off. And you begin a dance as old as time, entwining serpentine, senses quivering as parts of yourself that had been shut down or closed off and perhaps long forgotten, begin to open and blossom once more. Or perhaps you blossom for the first time. A heady mix of fear and hunger drives you on as the dance gains momentum. Hunger, because your soul longs to feel the exquisite bliss of liberty, to slough off the old skin of stories that no longer serve you, the old belief systems that tie you down. Hunger, as you strive to open to endless possibility.  And fear, because you know that in this awakening, old stories will emerge, and their demons must be confronted. And so, as the dance progresses and you allow yourself to surrender completely, you find yourself arriving, climaxing, at the edge of reason, where shadows disperse, the imaginal coalesces with myth, and suddenly – electrically – a brightness engulfs you, and waves of ecstatic freedom ripple, pulse, and throb through your consciousness. A consciousness now merged with the vast ocean of awareness that transcends the mundane world.

You have changed. Deep in your core, once hidden things are now exposed. You may not be aware of what has changed, but you feel different. Something -tangible- has awoken. You feel a little more bold than you did yesterday. A little more confidant. A little more free. The plants work is done. The paradigm has shifted. How you carry on with the energy that was generated is now up to you. How will you live your life from this new starting point?

Or does this make you feel uncomfortable?

 

I want to linger, just a little

in the land of the lotus eaters

where well-muscled men

chiselled

from myth

caress my soul

and make love to my mind.

 

Plant medicine is sensory medicine. It asks us to engage our sense perception in our inner, and sometimes outer worlds in order to effect healing. Some plants, like the subject of this story – the Blue Water Lily (Nymphaea caerulea), invite us to awaken and explore our sensuality in and of itself. The Miriam-Webster dictionary defines ‘sensual’ as; relating to or consisting in the gratification of the senses or the indulgence of appetite.

 To be a sensual being – to engage our senses and indulge our appetite, is the first thing we arrive into the world knowing. It defines our experience of the world around us and the level to which we perceive it. As newborns, we have various needs that must be met: nourishment, touch, safety. As newborns, our sensory gating channels, those neural channels by which we receive information about the outside world for processing, are wide open. This is why babies are largely kinetic in their expression. When they encounter something new – a bright coloured ball, dappled light filtering through green summer leaves, the prickly tickly texture of grass on chubby bare feet – their eyes widen in delight or wonderment and their whole body trembles as a result. They may squeal with joy, or draw a long gasp of air, or make some other delighted coo. This is sensuality. In this divorced society, we forget or supress this memory of being, and we tend to equate it only with sexuality, or food (which for some odd reason we have also applied the term ‘sexy’). Yet sensuality is so much more than sexuality. It is so much more than the gratification of the senses. To be sensual is to feel on multiple levels, and to imbue such meaning in our response to this feeling, that others can’t help but notice.

If we turn our attention to the energetic architecture of the body, the sacral plexus speaks to our ability to feel nourished, and therefore to enjoy life. Sitting just below our navel and centred in our pelvis, this energy plexus is the next progression up from our energy centre of survival, security, and feeling protected – our root. When the root is healthy, our next need is to delight in the things that life has to offer because we feel nourished. According to ancient understanding, this sacral emotional energy centre is also associated with pleasure, sensuality, passion, intimacy, connection, and creativity. Passion resides here, for whatever pursuit it may be directed. It is here in its physical cradle that the primal, sensual, sensate being that we once were arose from. I believe that in a healthy, balanced state, this centre for feeling, (and feeling nourished) dovetails with the perception that the heart employs and the depth that it offers to this feeling sense. A heart that gives nourishment must also be nourished. A clear connection between the sacral and the heart is then paramount. Steven Horne equates the sacral plexus with the navel energy centre on the Tree of Life model of energetic architecture. He describes the positive state of this centre as a person being able to feel worthy and deserving of love, of being able to bond with others in long-term loving relationships and feeling confident that one’s physical needs will be met in life. He describes this as the Philia aspect of love (in the Greek definitions of love, this is the familial aspect.) The energy here therefore develops with nurturing, particularly from the mother, and any emotional traumas here such as from abandonment issues can lead to physical issues related to digestion, addiction, infertility and other reproductive concerns.

Returning to this place of sensuality, Steven also describes that people with emotional wounds or blockages in this centre tend to live too much in their head, avoiding the body and physical life. Unfortunately, as the waters have been muddied around this area and sensuality has become synonymous with sexuality, much detrimental conditioning, rigid belief systems, and trauma has caused the sacral centre and the heart to close for many people. For them, only guilt and shame reside here. Their feelings, and their ability to feel, to create, and to be passionate about life has been cut off. Repressed.

Incidentally, in my own personal journey, I fractured my sacrum when I was eleven years old, at a time when I had just begun puberty and the shift in hormones and thoughts around my own sensual experience in the world began to emerge. The impact of the fall also left me with a permanent slight twist to my pelvis. This, along with birth and inherited trauma to the associated energy centre, created several wounds or blockages.

Therefore, do we dare to gently – tenderly – coax it open once more? Do we dare to allow ourselves to feel? To allow ourselves to be nourished and to enjoy life?

Sometimes the universe conspires against you – or perhaps secretly with you, and a plant begins to sing those first ethereal, enticing notes of its siren song. Sometimes this plant might be one that you least expect, and sometimes its reputation precedes it, its song recorded in the annals of antiquity. Nymphaea caerulea,or the Blue Water Lily is such a plant as this.

The ancient Egyptians also succumbed to the Blue Water Lily’s spell. It’s also known as the Sacred Lily of the Nile, being indigenous to the region, and perhaps its first recorded use was by the Egyptians. We see it adorning the walls of their temples and their tombs as a key motif in their artwork. It is a recurring motif in their funeral rites, erotic art, and rituals for healing. In fact, the dried flowers were found scattered all over Tutankhamens mummified body when his tomb was opened in 1922. Across the Atlantic, the Mayans also adopted the water lily into their ceremonial life, and we see it as a recurring motif in their artwork as well. For the Egyptians however, it represented surrender and rebirth. For one who has had the pleasure of swimming amongst these ethereal blooms on a warm Summers day, it is easy to feel why they were so revered. How captivating the scene of bathing amongst the papyrus reeds beneath an azure desert sky with the Lily’s heady scent infusing the air, a beguiling note played on the zephyr. Sublime. This is the Lily’s essence. Relaxing and euphoric. Often described as narcotic in nature, it is not the dull and heavy cold sedative that we might associate with the Opium Poppy and her chemical children so often employed to numb the pain of living in our harsh and cruel world.  Nor is it the intoxication of alcohol and loss of self-control. Instead, it is simply a surrender into bliss, a gentle ride on a long and undulating wave of euphoria. A sensual experience that invites us to be who we are on our truest and deepest level. And to release any fear, shame, or unhealthy guilt attached to that. Blue Water Lily simply invites us to be our core essence, our ethereal integrated self. To be reborn.

The element of most obvious association is water, mutable and fluid, with the Blue Water Lily perhaps being one of its most archetypical plants. I really love Keith Robertson and Danny O’Rawe’s description of the qualities of the water element in their book Celtic Herbal Medicine(2018);

“ Water energy is moving and cleansing. Without the Water of Life nothing can grow. Water is a remarkable solvent that should really be a gas at room temperature, but its molecules are bound by light hydrogen bonds and so they follow each other up the capillaries of trees and over waterfalls in a gleeful dance. Water in the body surrounds everything bringing nourishment and taking away waste. It demonstrates its emotional nature by giving us the precious water of human tears. It is centred in the kidneys and the urinary tract but is also associated with fat, our drainage and immune functioning lymphatic system and our sexual life which requires emotional connections and fluid lubrication. If we are unable to let life flow around and through us as it should we can experience problems in these systems.”

 This dovetails beautifully with the essence of the Sacral energy centre. From these aspects alone, we can begin to see where the Lily is going to begin its interaction. Interestingly many of the flower essences used for healing the emotional wounds of the sacral/navel energy centre are lilies. Matthew Wood also says that many of the lilies can be used interchangeably when treating issues in these areas.

 

The Second Encounter.

When I first met the Blue Water Lily, it was during a five-hour swim at a special swimming hole known as the Tea-tree Lakes situated in the sub-tropical climate of northern NSW. As I floated and swam and chatted to my friend who I was with, I kept feeling drawn to go and swim amongst these lilies that shone like jewels in the midday sun. At intervals, I’d breathe in deeply the exquisite fragrance. I drank in the Lily’s essence as it wove its way into my soul, and the most notable effects lasted a full three months after this first beautiful encounter. It inspired the piece written above, and yet I didn’t feel ready to publish it at the time. I still felt stuck, as though I was still seeking to do it justice. So, I began to work with other preparations of the plant over the course of the year.  I experimented with drinking a tea made from the dried flowers, and taking drops of a spagyric tincture made from the fresh flowers. But that initial meeting and the stirring it caused within me paved the way for the second meeting not four days ago. And I feel that it had to work through the physical and clear the inherited shame and guilt related to sensuality then in order to reveal the deeper insights which came next.

The insights which followed have come much from observing the Doctrine of Signatures of the plant (that is, ascertaining its tissue and organ affinities or its sphere of action by its appearance and how it appeals to the senses). As the physical healing of the emotional wounds held within the spheres of physical sensuality gave rise to the heart-connection of compassion, this then opened up a higher vibration again, because suddenly I had the eyes to see it. That of the spiritual lessons to be learned and internalised.

“Consider the lilies, and how they grow. They neither toil or spin, and I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not dressed like one of these.” (Luke 12:26)

The context of where the plant chooses to grow is as much a part of the Doctrine of Signatures as what the plant looks like, how it feels, how it tastes, how it smells, and how it sounds. In this regard, the Blue Lily that lives within my heart grows in a freshwater lake (a remnant of sand-mining carried out in the region many decades ago) close to the beach, so it has a sandy bed to anchor its roots into. The lake is situated within an indigenous reserve surrounded by groves of Tea-tree (Leptospermum and Melaleuca spp.) – Australian natives, and the lake’s water is tinged a rusty colour because of the tea-tree’s tannins and oils. The tea-tree itself carries many medicinal properties and an interesting history. Many will be familiar with the essential oil extracted from its leaves which has anti-septic and anti-fungal properties, as well as being an uplifting and refreshing scent.  The tea-trees are so-called because early settlers used the leaves as a substitute for china tea (Camelia sinensis). The Australian Bush Flower essence of the Peach-flowered Tea-tree (Leptospermum squarrosum) is for people who experience extreme mood swings, who have trouble committing to and following through with various projects due to becoming easily bored, and hypochondriacs. It helps people take responsibility for their own health without being pre-occupied by it.

IMG_3845
Photo taken by M.Carnochan 2019

Even from this brief look at where the lily grows, we see a picture emerging.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The sandy bottom is symbolic of the foundations we ‘build our house on’. Our core values and belief systems, and what we put our trust in. It has been written;

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine, and does them, shall be like a wise man who built his house on the rock, and the rain came down, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of Mine, and does not do them, shall be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand, and the rain came down, and the floods came, and the wind blew, and they beat on that house, and it fell, and great was its fall.”

There are two aspects to where the lily puts down its roots that illustrate these words. The first is that in propagating the lily, it needs a soil mix of coarse sand, aged manure, and loamy potting mix. This creates a muddy, nutrient rich mire from which the seed can sprout and begin to send up its leaves and then finally a long upright stem.  This mix needs the manure to hold it together or it will break up and the soil will float away when watering. The Lily itself doesn’t like to grow in turbulent or fast-moving water. Perhaps because it knows that it could quite easily get swept away. Once the roots are established though, in a lake, damn or pond, it snuggles in quite contentedly around the waters edge. Where it grows in the tea-tree lakes, the edges of the lake are re-enforced by the roots of the tea-trees, providing some stability, protection, and a foothold in which many of the lilies take root. This dependency is interesting in itself.

Water is usually symbolic of the emotional state of a person. Dreams of turbulent and rough seas often belie some inner emotional turmoil, whereas dreams of still millponds and lakes usually typify satisfaction or contentment around a situation. In this context, the lakes are still and serene. Swimming and floating there is very calming and relaxing, and a very peaceful experience. The lakes are away from the hustle and bustle of civilisation – even that of small country towns. The people who visit sense and respect the serenity, keep to themselves and sitting almost hidden amongst the groves of ti-tree, reveal themselves only to swim in blissful meditation. Occasionally, clothing is optional for some visitors but still a sense of peace and respectful distance pervades.

The water, being tinted with the constituents of the ti-tree is like swimming in a herbal-infused bath. After swimming there, people comment on the softness of their skin and hair, the freshness of their scent. It’s a cleansing experience. The worries and foolishness of the world is washed away.

From here the lilies verdant green round leaves float on the water’s surface, a covering for small freshwater fish, a landing pad for the iridescent dragonflies that dart and hover across the lake, or a shelter for small frogs and other tiny creatures seeking rest. Green is the colour of the energetic heart. It symbolises abundance, fertility, welcome and compassion. The fact that much of the vegetation that covers the planet is green echoes the compassion of Divine providence.

Green stems – sometimes single, sometimes a few, then arise straight and upright from the centre of the plant, with a single bud on each stem that blossoms into the Lily’s most precious jewel – it’s flower. The flower is ethereal, radiant and captivating – in design, to look at and to smell. The purple/blue hue of the petals are symbolic of intuition and spiritual vision – the ability to see both the forest and the trees, and the holographic pattern that sustains all of creation. The petals are arranged in a radiating pattern – like a bright and glorious star that permeates all things, sees all things. The centre of the lily flowers is, quite literally, its crowning glory. The bright white-merging with golden hue of its stamens reflect our crown, where we are infused in the womb with the light of Life and we connect with the Divine. (One could argue that it’s golden yellow centre could also reflect the solar plexus and its representation of intestinal fortitude and core grounding and connection between the spiritual and the physical, and perhaps it has that aspect as well, but my initial sense was of the crown and its openness to the Divine. The pattern of colours invokes a sense of the ethereal rather than the material) It also speaks of our Higher calling, or purpose in life. Again, we see these stamens tipped with the indigo of intuition and spiritual vision. We might also see the merging of male and female in these patterns. The divine expression of both attributes complementing each other.

I had opportunity to meditate on and integrate this deeper, more embodied essence of the Nymphaea caerulea two days ago. Having ventured some 700kms north of our home to sit with the Lily, and catch up with family and friends, my plans for the rest of our visit were thwarted when my car broke down. I was forced to cut my trip a couple of days short, as the car was unable to be fixed by the roadside assistance mechanic and the best option was to have the car towed all the way home. So, during the wait for the initial Roadside Assistance, and then the tow truck, and then the 8-hour journey back home in the cab of the tow truck (thankfully it was air-conditioned) I had ample time to reflect. I realised that the things of the man-made world are foolishness and unstable. The Lily reminded me to rise above this, to wash away my bad attitude and wash away the worries associated with my car breaking down and the initial panic of what I needed to do about it. It reminded me to have compassion for my sixteen-year old son who was my traveling companion and also had his plans to spend time with his friends changed. Above all it reminded me to put my trust in a Higher power, my Creator and God who sustains all, and for some reason allowed this to happen. It allowed me to raise my consciousness.  As it turned out, if anything could be gained from the experience, it gave me opportunity to consider the Lily and how it grows, and I gained the vision to see its patterns and its teachings. To me this is true euphoria, because it doesn’t just reside in the sacral/sensual centre, it connects the spirit, the mind, and the body and points the focus back to the Divine to let it guide me and direct me.

The Blue Water Lily is a glorious creation. A beacon of peace, of soul nourishment, and a deep joy, a hope in a turbulent world. Perhaps next year, I shall make a flower essence from it and make it available to all. In the meantime, its scent lingers on my nose, its quintessential nature lives in my heart. The journey continues. I hope that you also have the opportunity to meet with this beauty and infuse your life with its joy.

Many blessings,

Michelle

IMG_3835
Photo taken by M.Carnochan 2019.

 

Nymphaea caerulea (Blue Water Lily, Sacred Lily of the Nile)

 

Constituents: volatile oils, apomorphine, flavonoids, kaempferol, phytosterols, alkaloids, posphodiastrates, nuciferine, nupharine, nupharidine, quercitin, nymphayol, starch, tannins, catechins, and saponins.

Tastes: sweet, astringent, bitter

Fragrance:a sheer, light earthy-floral, musky, slightly green, sultry, sweet-aromatic, sensual, ephemeral.

Energetics: Cooling

Tissue/Organ/System affinities: mucous membranes, pancreas, nervous system, digestive system, urinary and reproductive system. Sacral plexus. Heart centre. Crown and Pineal energy centres.

Virtues: euphoric, mild sedative/hypnotic, anxiolytic, astringent (flowers) demulcent (rhizomes), cardiotonic (flowers), mild bitter.

Parts Used:Flower, buds, stem, rhizomes, leaves.

Traditional Preparations & Usage: dried flowers steeped in wine. The dried flower smoked. Water infusions of the leaves and flowers. The starchy rhizomes have been traditionally eaten. It is also used as a water purification plant. Used extensively in Ayurvedic and Unani Tibb medicine in digestive disorders, to calm the emotions, as an aphrodisiac, and as a cardiotonic. It has also been used to regulate menstruation, in leucorrhoea and other female discharges. It has also shown anti-microbial and immunomodulating actions and the seeds, flowers and leaves are infused in a topical wash for the treatment of skin infections.

Potential Therapeutic Uses: Researchers in India found in 2016 that the seeds and rhizomes proved effective in controlling the blood glucose and lipid levels in persons suffering from Type 2 diabetes and obesity.

Combines well with: rose and damiana (self-nurturing, useful for menopause)

 

References;

 

http://entheology.com/plants/nymphaea-caerulea-blue-lily-blue-lotus/

https://ayalamoriel.com/blogs/smellyblog/tagged/blue-waterlily

https://www.cogentoa.com/article/10.1080/23311932.2016.1249172

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/304395869_PHARMOCOGNOSTIC_STUDIES_ON_NYMPHAEA_SPP

 

 

 

 

Plant Medicine

On Rosemary and Remembering the Warrior Queen

Have you ever heard it said that when healing is needed, a plant will show up that bears the specific virtue of meeting this need?

I’ve been sitting here at my computer attempting to find the mandatory texts that I need for an up coming graduate diploma programme that I’ve enrolled in. This week has been a bit of a hormonal rollercoaster. I’m feeling overwhelmed, and I’m adding to an already burgeoning list of responsibility (something I’ve now identified that is a pattern for me). Because I’m the type of person who distracts myself with academic pursuits when I’m struggling to keep my head above water.
If you’re familiar with my history of sleep paralysis and chronic insomnia (20 years!!), how I managed to pull off a degree and several other qualifications, as well as bearing children, during that period is nothing short of a miracle (No, I’m not blowing my own trumpet, I really don’t know how I managed it.). Suffice it to say, now that that particular issue has been resolved, and I can sleep (oh Hallelujah, how I can sleep!), my brain has a lot of regenerating and a lot of catching up to do. And so, every now and then, I do doubt myself.
And this wonderful ride of peri-menopause seems to amplify what is already lurking in the shadows; anxiety, depression, randomly triggered flashbacks, self-doubt etc etc. Blerg.

But I digress, because as I sit here trying to concentrate, there’s a large Rosemary shrub in my peripheral vision that is commanding me to write of her just now. And she does have a commanding presence. She is at her peak. Her delicate pale blue blossoms speak of gentleness, but really belie the powerful healing that she offers.

 

image: ancient-origins.net
image: ancient-origins.net

‘Boudicca’ she whispers.
‘Warrior Queen’.

I can’t help but be reminded of a full-bodied shiraz, and the aroma of a Sunday roast when I smell or taste Rosemary’s rich pungency (yes, even as a vegetarian). I crush a resinous sprig between my fingers, and inhale deeply. The scent penetrates and infuses my core. It’s warmth diffuses strength into my heart, and comfort to my soul. A richness, on being and acting, but this isn’t the over-the-top excesses of pomp and ceremony. Instead I recall an image of tapestries interwoven with fine threads of gold, which shimmer and dance in the firelight of the hearth. Rosemary is a herb of the hearth, and the hearth belongs to a queen. This is the regal dignity of a warrior queen.  A queen who isn’t afraid to cut through the fat, and the crap, to expose the bare bones of truth. Yet she also encourages her loyal subjects with genuine warmth and her own fierce loyalty.

There’s an old folk saying “where Rosemary flourishes, the lady rules’. Perhaps it is fitting then that the owners of this house (and the guardians of this rosemary) are a family of six women.

Evidently this particular rosemary invokes Boudicca, that ancient Celtic warrior queen who stood against the Romans.  (I was at a friend’s place for dinner not long after this rosemary started whispering to me, and lo and behold, a novel about that famed queen sat on my friend’s bookshelf. Sweet synchronicity.) Another rosemary may invoke the Queen of Hungary for instance.* Or Queen Esther, another example of dignified strength. Gentle, or fierce, in her persuasion, this is a herb that kindles the inner fire.

In the archetype of the Warrior Queen, there is an element of self-sacrifice for the greater good. A defender of the realm, often with a very personal element. I also see Rosemary for those who give much of themselves but have depleted all reserves.

image: ©M.Carnochan
image: ©M.Carnochan

Rosemary, that’s for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember.”
Ophelia (Hamlet by William Shakespeare)

Rosemary has a long association with the memory, so perhaps it is no coincidence she speaks to me just now. Ancient Greek, and Elizabethan students wore rosemary wreaths to help retain what they were studying. It was also worn at weddings and funerals to symbolise loyalty and friendship – both acts of keeping loved ones at the forefront of our minds.

John Parkinson said of Rosemary..” it helpeth also a weak memory by heating and drying up the cold moistures of the braines, and quickening the senses.”  As such, Culpepper placed it under the dominion of the sun, and further extolled it’s virtues as a warming herb, which includes ‘lifting the spirits’ and ‘dispelling the mood’, an encouraging anti-depressant.

It is via it’s action on the digestion, and in particular on the gallbladder that we see this virtue of ‘cutting through the fat’ not just metaphorically, but quite literally. Rosemary helps the liver and the gallbladder to deal with those rich excesses by stimulating the flow of bile. And I suppose this is why it is much used in mediterranean cooking, particularly where meats and oily foods are concerned.
Dr Franck Ledoux (in his book on phytoembryotherapy) refers to rosemary’s ability to ‘eliminate glues (accumulated toxins in the mucous membranes in the form of mucous, tissue oedema, and wastes stored in fat.) And as an antioxidant, she simulates glutathione production and thus helps not only to protect the liver but also the blood vessels, heart, nerves, and brain.

Modern research has shown that Rosemary has an anti-inflammatory action, is anti-spasmodic and can be used in the prevention of asthma, has anti-tumour properties, can be used for under-active thyroid, and is a powerful preventative for Alzheimer’s.

David Hoffman says that Rosemary is “a circulatory and nervine stimulant, which in addition to the toning and calming effect on the digestion makes it a remedy that is used where psychological tension is present.

This virtue can be applied both internally and externally (as an infused oil or linament for muscular soreness through to stimulating the scalp in hair loss), although I am inclined to observe the energetics of the plant and the constitution of the person for a truly holistic and individualised approach. Rosemary is not one that I would give to a hot, angry, hypertensive sort of person. I might consider her a whole body tonic, for typically cold and weak people (or those prone to debilitation from chronic stress, for example) with fogginess and/or poor memory, prone to bouts of depression and/or anxiety, and poor digestion of fats in particular, where gas and bloating are present as well as general inflammation of the gut.

For someone who has lost heart.

For someone who is stuck.

Or someone who needs their inner flame reignited.

‘Boudicca’
‘Warrior Queen’, she whispers.

image: Botancial.com
image: Botancial.com

Rosmarinus officinalis   (Lamiaceae)

‘Dew of the sea.’

Habitat & Description: A quintessential mediterranean herb, there is an imagery evoked just by virtue of this plants native habitat, of an inner strength and resilience. Of ‘resistance to life’s difficulties’ (Ledoux and Gueniot).  It is a shrub that grows on dry, stony, and calcerous soil, often on cliffs or hill sides where it is watered by the sea mists (hence it’s name). It also often faces high winds, and is often a pioneer plant of degraded soils.  In cultivation, it requires a sunny spot and although it likes well-drained soil, it also thrives in sandy, poor soil. It can handle the heat well, and is drought tolerant.

A member of the Lamiaceae (mint) family, it is strongly aromatic. You can feel these aromatic oils as much as you can smell them, by the resinous quality of it’s short, sharp, narrow leaf. The leaves grow opposite to each other on slender upright woody stems. It’s small white or pale blue flowers appearing in pairs at the end.

For me, the Doctrine of Signatures is not just about what a plant, or particular part of it, looks like that will tell you what it’s good for. The whole being of the plant communicates what it is here for – it’s preferred habitat and climate, it’s smell, it’s feel and taste, as well as those odd and insistent whisperings of hidden analogy.

Energetics: warming, drying
Taste: Pungent, bitter, sharp, oily

Constituents: essential oil (cineole, pinene, camphor, borneo, limonene, terpineol and verbinol), phenolic acids (Rosmarinic), bitter triterpenes (carnosol, rosmanol), triterpenes (oleanic and frolic acid), triterpene alcohols, flavonoids and their glycosides (diosmetin, luteolin).

Virtues: – antioxidant, antimicrobial, antispasmodic, carminative, mild analgesic, increases mental concentration, circulatory stimulant, nervine, cardiotonic, hepatic, antiseptic, astringent, rejuvenative, antidepressant, anti-inflammatory, diuretic, digestive, bronchodilator, emmenagogue (regulates menstruation), diaphoretic (induces a sweat when given in hot infusion), cholagogue (stimulates bile flow), anthelmintic (kills worms), rubefacient (brings blood to an area), relaxant.

Indications:

*Key Indication: to warm and strengthen, to get things moving and to help things flow, to protect.

  • headaches from sluggish digestion
  • flatulence, bloating, and indigestion – especially after a fatty meal.
    a tendency to poor peripheral circulation, and feeling cold in the extremities, often with hypotension (low blood pressure).
  • fogginess, sluggish memory, and poor concentration.
    weak and debilitated from prolonged periods of stress or illness, may also experience intermittent depression, and/or anxiety.
  • spasmodic cold, moist cough.
  • as a mouthwash.
  • sore, stiff, muscles and joints (topical)
  • hair loss (topical)
  • peri-menopausal angst!
  • can be taken as a heart tonic and a brain tonic, and as general body tonic to ensure good digestion, and protect against oxidative stress.

 

Harvesting: The leaves can be gathered at any time of the year, but Rosemary is at her peak when she is flowering. (Stephen Church says that Winter gathered Rosemary has more of an action on peripheral circulation, whereas the Summer gathered tops are more of a nerviness stimulant.) Gather the flowering tops in summer and hang in a warm dry place in bunches to dry. Once dried, strip the leaves from the stem and store in an airtight container in a cool, dark, dry place.

How to use:

Infused oil – The fresh leaves may be infused in oil to use as a massage oil for the scalp, or incorporated into a balm for sore muscles. Gather the flowering tops, chop them up and pack them into a jar, cover with organic extra virgin olive oil, or sweet almond oil. Make sure the leaves are fully covered by poking them down into the oil with a chopstick or twig. Screw the lid on and let sit in a warm sunny spot for 2-3 weeks. Give the jar a bit of a shake every day. When the time is up, strain through a nut milk bag or fine mesh strainer into another clean, sterilised jar (sterilise by boiling the jar in a pot of water for 5 minutes). Let the oil sit, so any sediment and water can separate, at which point decant the oil off into a new jar. Don’t forget to label the jar with particularly like when it was harvested and first infused, and then when it was strained, as well as the name of the plant. This infused oil can be used as is, or further incorporated into a balm.

Tincture – It can be made into a tincture of 1:3 fresh herb:menstruum (water/alcohol solvent) ratio with 45% alcohol, and macerate for 2-3 weeks, as well as a simpler’s tincture of packing a jar with fresh or dried herb and then covering with good Vodka and let macerate (sit and extract the medicinal qualities) for 2-3 weeks. Dosage may be from 10 drops up to 2ml/ 3x day.

Tea – I’ve been making myself an infusion of the fresh sprigs as a pre-breakfast kickstarter. I take about 4 or 5 sprigs of the tips, and pour on just boiled water and let sit for 5-10 minutes. You could also use a tsp of the dried herb and infuse in the same fashion.

Often I just like to have a sprig of fresh rosemary sitting next to me as I study or work, which I can pick up and smell when I need to remember something important. And also because I just like the smell. And sharing my space with a green being 🙂

image: ©M.Carnochan
image: ©M.Carnochan

* The Queen of Hungary inspired the invention of a water that was used by her ‘for outward application to renovate the vitality of paralysed limbs, [and] who was said to have been completely cured by its continued use.’  Mrs M. Grieve. ‘A Modern Herbal’.

References;

The Herbalist’s Bible: John Parkinson’s Lost Classic Rediscovered by Julie Bruton-Seal & Matthew Seal.

Medical Herbalism by David Hoffman

Phytoembryotherapy: The Embryo of Gemmotherapy by Drs Franck Ledoux, Gérard Guéniot.

Plant Profiles: Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) by Isla Burgess  International College of Herbal Medicine (www.herbcollege.com)

http://rjwhelan.co.nz/herbs%20A-Z/rosemary.html

https://theherbarium.wordpress.com/2009/04/08/harvesting-making-specific-tinctures-m-z-5/

http://annemcintyre.com/rosmarinus-officinalis-%E2%80%A2-rujmari-%E2%80%A2-rosemary/ (a great Ayurvedic perspective)