Friday, 19 February 2010

Emerging from winter with herbs

Ever since Elizabeth set the subject for the February UK Blog party, I’ve been trying to think how best to address the issues. What does the word “Emerge” actually mean? It originates from Latin, where “e-“ means “out of or from” and “mergere” is the verb to immerse. So emerge can mean
• To rise from or as if from immersion
• To come forth from obscurity
• To become evident
• To come into existence

All this makes me think that during winter, we have been hiding, hidden in the darkness from the cold, possibly even hibernating. Now, as winter ends, we must come forward into the light. We must show ourselves, possibly our new selves, a self which is still developing as the season grows and changes.

In order to survive winter, we have immersed ourselves in warmth, we have slowed down, perhaps become stagnant, sluggish, but as the pulse of the earth begins to grow louder, we have to respond to the quickening beat.

How do we do this?

Activity comes first. We have to start actually doing things. As days lengthen, the light entices us outwards into fresh air and sunlight. Our bodies are depleted with vitamin D, so we crave sunlight. Some people may need supplementation. Those people who suffer with seasonal affective disorder may have been using a special light lamp. A combination of St John’s wort and lemon balm is also helpful, as is goldenrod elixir.

The depletion and slowing down of winter may cause our bodies to need a kick-start to get them moving again. You could start with a gentle detoxification of increased water consumption, a nightly herbal bath and plenty of sleep as set out in Jenny Jones’ article here. Our bodies may need tonics (see articles here and here ) or a longer term adaptogenic approach.

Adaptogens are described as herbs which increase the ability of the body to cope with and respond to stress. They have been shown to act on the adrenals and the endocrine and immune systems. Adaptogens were the subject of significant research by Russian scientists for many decades in the 20th century. They were looking for plants which would increase physical abilities for space travellers and athletes.

Their findings enhanced global knowledge about identified adaptogenic herbs. Most of these plants came from the Chinese and Ayurvedic traditions, with only five being found in European Russia and the US – American ginseng (panax quinquefolius), Eluethero/Siberian ginseng (eleutherococcus sentocosus), licorice (glycyrrhiza glabra or g.uralensis), Rhaponticum (rhaponticum carthamoides) and Rhodiola (rhodiola rosea).

Luckily, some of the Asiatic Adaptogens grow in this climate, so I am looking forward to growing ashwagandha from seed and holy basil this year. If I get really lucky I might try growing some reishi mushroom logs which would be a totally new experience!

In order to become active, you also have to do some spring cleaning. This may mean an emotional process as well as a physical one.

In order to emerge and declutter ourselves from the detritus of winter, we may have to go through a period of letting go with conscious intent. We may need to release emotions e.g. guilt, fears, sorrow, pain or anger where they are not helping us or are holding us back from moving forward. If an emotion is proving helpful, e.g. a righteous anger may be giving you energy to do what needs to be done, then it should not be suppressed, but worked with openly until it can be discharged.

Herbs can be amazing allies when emotions threaten to overwhelm us. Henriette Kress, Kiva Rose and Rebecca Hartman have put together wonderful posts on herbs for sorrow and stress. It doesn’t really matter in what form the herb is used, providing the medium contains sufficient essence of the living herb. You might choose a flower remedy, a fresh herb tincture, an infused oil or salve, a herb tea or a foot bath depending on how the emotion is manifesting itself in you.

If emotion is affecting your digestion, you might want to experiment with Goldenrod. Both Ananda Wilson and Kiva Rose have found this useful for “cases of mild to moderate depression, especially where there is seasonal sensitivity and general feelings of coldness, frustration and a feeling of being paralyzed by cold weather or more specifically, lack of sunlight.”

Kiva Rose goes on to say, “I am also very fond of it in where digestive stagnation is causing feelings of sadness, stuckness and potential despair, and in such situations often team it up with Rose and Ginger. I am especially prone to use Goldenrod for those who consistently feel cold and have gut stagnation where food just wants to sit in the belly like a lump, and where there is concurrent feelings of sadness and the blues that accompanies digestive upset and chilly weather.”

Herbs for guilt were discussed on the Herbwifery Forum during the past few months. Pine flower essence was suggested, or a combination of pine, mimulus and honeysuckle flower essences. Ali suggested that sometimes guilt is there for a reason and felt rosemary’s gift of clarity and insight helped you learn not to make the same mistake twice “without wearing too much of a hair shirt about it”.

Winter stagnation may produce a sense that our boundaries are knocked around or jumbled or tied up with those of other people you have had close contact with. It was Matthew Wood with his tales of yarrow who first drew me to ask help of this herb. I am touched by lots of other people. Sometimes their stories and circumstances affect me greatly, but yarrow always helps me realize I do not have to carry their burdens for them, that my support is sufficient without needing to rescue them from the situation.

You may favour a different herb for strengthening your boundaries. Some people like thistle, but yarrow does it for me.

Spring can be an anxious time for many people. It’s a lot more comfortable staying in the warm than venturing outside when you don’t know what the outcome might be. I’ve been working with a combination of skullcap, St John’s wort and lemon balm recently and they have proved effective in untying the knots in the solar plexus and aiding sleep where you would otherwise be lying awake all night worrying.

No matter what winter throws at us, spring will come. Snowdrops and crocuses are flowering in gardens and daffodil buds are already four to five inches above the ground. Cuckoopint curls through the dark soil and blackcurrant and elder bushes have beautiful pale green and purple leaf buds ready to burst.

However you emerge from winter into spring, it will be easier if you spend some time in planning and preparation. As with everything, it is not just our physical bodies that are involved, but our minds and spirits too. Whatever you plan, herbs will be there to guide and support you if asked.


Elizabeth Marsh said...

Hello Sarah,
Thank you for your insightful post. I've just published up the blog party post linking all our posts together.
Best wishes,

Whispering Earth said...

Hi Sarah, I really enjoyed your post, you write so beautifully. I have just joined the webring and am finding everyone's blogs very inspirational. Keep us posted on your results with growing Holy Basil!
Spring blessings
Lucinda x

Herbaholic said...

Hi Sarah :)

Lovely post, Lucinda already commented about lots of us being 'drawn' to Holy Basil this year, its on my list of things to grow. I wonder what is drawing us, it'll be fun to find out. A lot of what you said resonated deeply with me, I'll keep the skullcap, st johns wort and lemon balm combination in mind I have those blurry days when the mind won't rest and the mental lurgy kicks in.

Hugs D x

Brigitte said...

Wonderful post.

When I read about the blog party subject, it took me a while to understand the word 'emerge' because I wasn't sure since English is my second language...
You describe the process of emerging so wonderful in your post that I just felt I am in the changing season of yours (even the sun here in New Zealand was unforgiving hot today!)

Yarrow is also my favorite and I will try out a flower essence (as soon as I got to the beach again for some water of the ocean :-) which shall be helpful for therapists who tend to pick up influences from their clients as well as for people undergoing a radiotherapy.

Thank you for the links which I will follow as soon as possible.

I wish you a wonderful 'emerging from winter'

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Sarah Head said...

Thanks for all the kind comments, everyone - this was quite a difficult post to write as it took me a while to think what I wanted to say and had to keep coming back to it - which I guess is what happens during this month! I'm definitely in another retreating stage at the moment with all this returning snow!

Brigitte, I've been wanting to ask you about using sea water for flower essences. Is this normal practice in Germany? I've always used spring water and I'd be concerned about the amount of salt in the essence. I've used sea water for crystal cleansing, but not anything internal. At least you have the benefit of having relatively unpolluted sea water compared with here!

Debs, Have you tried passionflower? It has the reputation for stopping your brain talking to you. Might be worth comparing the two remedies and see which is most effective.

Brigitte said...

Hi Sarah,
I normally use spring water as well, but I stumbled over this essence in a book.
Here is a link to my post were you will find the book

Brigitte said...

Ah! Forgot to say that I am from Austria ;-)
And since this country is in the heart of Europe nobody makes a sea salt essence their ;-)
Actually I first saw an ocean when moving to NZ... but that's a whole other story :-)

lilylunagardener said...

I'm excited to be your 100th follower! Your post is very nicely done - especially meaningful, as I have Seasonal Affective Depression disorder & coming out of winter into spring is a difficult, but very welcome time!

Thanks for the info - keep up the great writing!

Anonymous said...

We stumbled across your blog of tranquility which has now enriched our herbless life.Tomorrow beckons with the thought of inner peace and the everlasting search for happiness. It may well be our salvation.Beowulf and Isolde our two familiars look forward to further musings.