Latin: Picralima nitida
Parts Used: Dried seeds
Taste/Energetics: Extremely bitter, astringent
Properties: Anxiolytic, sedative, antispasmodic, opiate like analgesic, hypotensive
Actions: This is a pain relieving herb that is starting to become internationally popular in the internet underground due to akuamma’s pain relieving properties. Akuamma seeds come from the Akuamma tree in Africa where it grows primarily in the Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Ghana. It has been used to treat malaria, diarrhea and has long been known for its analgesic, sedative and muscle relaxing qualities. There is evidence that the main constituents (akuammidine, akuamigine) are opiate agonists and therefore elicit similar pain relief to opiates. However, it does not seem to elicit the same euphoric buzz one generally receives from opiates. There is no evidence of common addiction to the seeds, perhaps because they are so bitter and unpallatable.
In terms of mental health, this is an herb that might be chosen by some one who wants to shift to non-synthetic opiate agonist herbs (such as kratom) for pain relief, or who is looking for sedation.
Dosage: 500 mg to 5 grams, generally in capsule form. Too bitter to take as powder or as a tea. When purchased in whole seed form, it usually takes a coffee grinder to powder the herb. One can just suck on and chew a seed for effect as well.
Contraindications: Yes a lot. Not enough is known about this herb and its effects, especially in large doses and should be treated with a great deal of respect. Generally not to be mixed with other pain relievers, sedatives, hypotensives.
Amla (Indian Gooseberry)
Latin: Phylanthus emblica
Parts Used: Fruit
Taste/Energetics: Sour, sweet, cooling
Properties: Metabolic tonic, immunomodulator, adaptogen, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, hypotensive, blood sugar regulation, diuretic
Actions: A traditional herb often used in Ayurveda, Amla fruit is one the highest sources of vitamin C with four times more than the average orange. Amla is known as a rasayana, a supreme tonic helpful for improving immunity, cardiac function, strengthening heart muscles, lowering high blood pressure, for fighting off colds and flu, and for maintaining regular digestion and elimination. In Ayurveda, amla is seen as restoring and building “ojas”. Ojas is a term for our underlying essence, vigor and potency.
Dosage: 2-5 grams, 1-2 tsp/day . This is a lovely rejuvenative herb to be used traditionally in formulas in jam, syrups, chutneys, juices, decoctions and wines. Amla is found in one the most famous Ayurvedic formulas known as Chyawanprash, a jam that consists of dozens of herbs that is useful for strengthening immunity and nervous system strength. It is a wonderful rejuvenative tonic jam that is the most popular tonic formula in India. Amla is also a key ingredient in triphala, a popular formula that acts as a mild laxative and digestive tonic.
Contraindications: None known
Aralia (American Spikenard)
Latin: Aralia californica
Parts Used: Roots, leaves and berries
Taste/Energetics: spicy, sweet, slightly cooling
Properties: Antimicrobial, diaphoretic, adatogenic, anxiolytic, expectorant
Actions: Aralia is a very gentle adaptogenic tonic herb that is somewhat rare and not part of a common herbal pharmacopeias. It used to be used primarily for deep hacking coughs, bronchitis with lots of phlegm and mucus. More recently it has been noted for its ability to gentle strengthen people who appear exhausted, run down, depleted and anxious. In the Northwest where I live it is often discussed in connection with Devil’s Club (Oplopanax horridus), its cousin from the Aralia family. Both have tonic qualities but while Devil’s Club appears to be a more spicy, stimulating and “yang” tonic, Aralia tends to be more gently rejuvenative,restorative and “yin”. Herbalist Scott Kloos calls Aralia the Queen and Devil’s Club the King of the forerst. It should be treated with quite a bit of respect as it is not a common plant and wild. We have a long history of overharvesting herbs (American Ginseng, goldenseal, etc) and should be very cautious in our use of Aralia.
Dose: In 1:5 60 % tincture 3-5 ml twice a day. In tea, one tablespoon root to one cup of water.
Latin: Arnica montana
Parts Used: Flowers
Taste/Energetics: Cool, dry
Properties: Anti-inflammatory, analgesic, anxiolytic, vulnerary, antimicrobial, anticoagulant, vasodilator
Actions: Arnica is one of the most common herbs used externally in oils, salves, compresses and liniments for helping an injury to heal. Arnica improves blood flow to the injured area of the body and hastens healing for sprains, muscle aches, abrasions and bruises. Used in this way it also acts as an anti-inflammatory agent and helps reduce the chance of infection. Arnica is also commonly used as a homeopathic remedy for trauma related to a physical injury. Not only does it help soothe pain but it also acts to reduce the anxiety and shock related to the injury.
Dosage: So yes this can be used internally as a tincture in very small doses but I don’t recommend it when we have a lot of other options. Some people are sensitive to it and in larger doses it can be quite toxic. Via Thomas Easley: he recommends only taking 1-5 drops of the tincture up to 3 times a day as a strong anti-inflammatory and cardiac tonic. Please consult a professional if using it in this way.
Contraindications: Generally safe when used externally or homeopathically.
Latin: Withania somnifera
Parts Used: Roots
Taste/Energetics: Bitter, slightly sweet, warming
Properties: Restorative Tonic, adaptogenic, anxiolytic, hypotensive, libido enhancing
Actions: In India, ashwaghanda is a very popular “Rasayana”, an ayurvedic term meaning supreme tonic. Ashwaghanda is a tonic adaptogenic herb that helps reduce fatigue, increase vitality, improve mood and wellbeing and bring a greater sense of calm energy when taken over time. It is especially helpful for those folks who have felt burnt out and frazzled, tend to go a little too fast, move a little too quickly and are prone to anxiety and insomnia. It also tends to build stamina and strengthen libido. This is not an aphrodisiac that tends to cause an immediate feeling of virility. Instead it helps to restore one’s reserves and improve vitality so that a strengthened libido is a natural outcome. I work with ashwaghanda quite a bit and think of this herb for many of us who need deep sustenance, strength and greater resiliency when we feel tapped and depleted.
Dosage: Tincture of dry root 1:5, 2-5 ml up to twice a day. Standard decoction of root. In India this herb is traditionally taken as a powder and added to teas, drinks and food. A classic is adding a 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of ashwaghanda to a cup of milk and a tinch of honey and then gently heating the mixture for 5 minutes until the powder is dissolved and then drinking it a couple hours before bed. Especially good for those with insomnia.
Contraindications: Avoid in pregnancy. Avoid if there is sensitive to nightshades.
Asparagus Root (Tian Men Dong)
Latin: Asparagus cochinchinensis
Parts Used: Roots
Taste/Energetics: Sweet, Bitter, Cooling
Properties: Moistening tonic and nutritive herb, anxiolytic, demulcent, antitussive. diuretic
Actions: In Chinese medicine this root is known as one of the best yin tonics. That means it is especially useful for folks who feel worn out, exhausted with dryness and “false heat” symptoms along with insomnia, irritability, anxiety, frustration and anger. In India this is one of the most prized tonic herbs and is noted to specifically help women to strengthen the reproductive system promote fertility, relieve menstrual irregularity and cramping and improve milk flow. It is wonderful for dry coughs, sore throats, and bronchitis.
Mental Health: It is often helpful for those with chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, arthritic conditions, exhaustion, fatigue, depression, and those who need deep nutritive tonic support.
Dose: Take 3-5 ml tincture twice a day. Really its best to take this herb as a decoction in tea form to really get its moistening, enriching and tonic properties. 5-10 grams a day.
Contraindications: None. In Chinese medicine it is generally to be avoided by those with “damp” conditions.
Latin: Astragalus membranaceus
Parts Used: Roots
Taste/Energetics: Sweet, moistening, slightly warming
Properties: Tonic, adaptogenic, immunomodulating, antimicrobial, diuretic, cardiotonic, anti-tumoral.
Actions: This is one of the gentlest tonic “adaptogens” available to us. Astragalus is commonly added to soups and congees as a way of encouraging greater nourishment and sustenance via the diet and is the main way I recommend taking it.
Astragalus has a special affinity for improving immune function and for those who appear short of breath with common lung complaints. It improves the “wei qi”, a term for the energy that protects pathogens from entering and causing illness. Astragalus also improves digestive functioning by moistening and strengthening absorption.
It is a deeply helpful herb for those who feel run down, exhausted, depressed from being overstressed and overtaxed. It improves kidney function by improving metabolism and encouraging diuresis. Also helpful for inhibiting tumor growth.
Traditional Chinese Medicine philosophy warns against using this herb when the body is already being attacked pathogenically. But numerous Western herbalists I know as well as myself will offer this herb as part of bone broth and soups with good effect.
Dose: As I said, I primarily suggest taking this herb whole as a supplement to bone broths and soups. 5-15 grams a day. It is sold in compressed root form in a way that looks like tongue dispenser sticks. Quality varies greatly depending on the provenance and length of time astragalus was grown.
Tincture: 2-5 ml, 2 times a day
Tea/broths: Usually mixed with other herbs and decocted 30 mins to hour. A couple “sticks’, or about 5 grams, 2 times a day.
Powder: 1-2 teaspoons (3-6 grams) 3 times a day
Contraindications: Avoid when a cold or the flu is coming on. Avoid when taking immunomodulating drugs.
Atractylodes (Bai Zhu)
Latin: Atractylodes macrocephala
Parts Used: Rhizome
Taste/Energetics: Bitter, sweet, warming
Properties: Stomachic, digestive Tonic, diuretic, diuretic, anxiolytic
Actions: Useful for stomach problems such as diarrhea, lack of appetite and helpful for improving poor digestion and assimilation of nutrients from food. This is especially useful for folks who have depression that relates to poor digestive function. They feel damp and obstructed in that area with associated swelling and cramping. They may feel tired and listless from poor absorption. It has a nice calming effect as well that helps relax the body so that digestion is improved.
Dose: 3-10 grams in decoction/day. 1-3 ml of tincture to 2 x/day.
Contraindications: Avoid in folks who appear hot, dry, with stomach bloating/abdominal stagnancy.
Latin: Banisteriopsis caapi (and commonly Psychotria viridis -chacruna)
Family: Malphigiaceae (and Rubiacae)
Parts Used: The Caapi shredded vine is considered to be the ayahuasca as it contains the active entheogenic compound DMT. Another plant that has MAOI properties is needed to activate the plant. Chacruna leaves are commonly used for this in South America but other plants such as Mimosa hostels also can be used with good effect.
Taste/Energetics: Extremely bitter, acrid
Properties: Emetic, Diaphoretic, diuretic
Actions: Ayahuasca is the main entheogen used for healing, divination and ceremonial purposes by Amazonian shamans (Ayahuasceros) in countries such as Brazil, Ecuador and Peru. Because ayahuasca contains DMT, it is a powerful hallucinogenic, induces wild visions and deep soul shaking experiences. Aya is primarily used by local ayahuasceros to develop deep relationships with jungle plants and animals, to learn their songs or “icaros”, which are then sung in healing ceremonies. Ayahuasceros can also become embroiled in complex psychic warfare with other ayahuasceros and often the cause of sickness is viewed as a form of “mal brujeria”- bad witchcraft, that requires spiritual healing. Traditionally, engaging with ayahuasca entailed strong sacrifice and taking on a a “dieta” or a set of dietary and lifestyle restrictions and rituals in preparation for working with Aya.
Ayahuasca is also considered to carry the feminine spirit of the forest that can be quite demanding, harsh and loving at the same time. I first took part in an ayahuasca ritual in 1992 when I traveled to Ecuador and lived in the Amazon for a summer. The practice of Westerners working with a traditional ayahuascero was fairly unknown at the time but now has become a tourist industry that threatens local indigenous customs. At the same time, numerous people have found that ayahuasca can be profound for helping to heal old patterns, wounds and the symptoms of PTSD. Like many entheogens, Aya works at a profoundly deep soul level and has the capacity to help in the process of emotional healing and transformation. This is a plant that should be treated with the utmost respect and caution.
Contraindications: Lots. This should not be taken by someone who is feeble, weak with little reserves. Traditionally those who engage with Aya should purify themselves through eating a very stripped down plain diet, take solitude as much as possible and avoid medications. Aya can be absolutely overwhelming and shake people to their core, bring up intense wounds, both personal and collective and be intensely cathartic in both a good and deeply challenging way. On a larger level, I think those who engage with this plant should really consider the traditional uses and look to give back to the local indigenous communities that have cultivated, protected and worked with this plant for centuries.
Latin: Bacopa monieri
Parts Used: Whole herb
Taste/Energetics: Bitter. This is an aquatic plant
Properties: Anxiolytic, analgesic, anticonvulsant, antiinflammatory, antioxidant, cardiotonic, nervous system tonic, nootropic
Actions: Brahmi is one of the most commonly used and well loved medicinal plants in India and is often used to regenerate and rejuvenate the nervous system. It has been shown to improve co
gnitive ability, mental performance and memory and has been used for helping those with alzheimers, insomnia, anxiety and ADHD.
Brahmi has both the ability to enhance mental clarity while also acting as a gentle and calming relaxant that is helpful for those who are overloaded and sensitive to their environment. For those who are highly sensitive, autistic, who get insomnia and are prone to anxiety, Brahmi can be a helpful herb. This herb is highly revered in Ayurveda as an herb that promotes subtle awareness and cultivates “Sattvic” (sweet) qualities in the mind.
Outside of mental health concerns, brahmi has also been used for a number of health concerns ranging from asthma, arthritis, digestive issues to psoriasis, eczema, epilepsy and cancer.
Dose: Powdered herb 1-3 grams/day. 2-4 ml tincture to twice a day. Pretty hard to take as a tea as it is so bitter so most prefer to take it in capsule or tincture form.
Contraindications: Potentially problematic for women who are taking estrogen supplementation.
Latin: Ocimum basilicum
Parts Used: Leaves, flowering tops
Taste/Energetics: Pungent, spicy, sweet, warming
Properties: Antimicrobial, antidepressant, expectorant, stomachic, carminitive, stimulant, antispasmodic
Actions: This commonly used kitchen herb has long been favored to use in cooking because of its uplifting delicious taste. Coming from India, it has long been used in the Mediterranean for many culinary dishes. Basil relieves headaches, cramping in the stomach, indigestion and nausea, has antimicrobial properties and is useful in treating intestinal worms. Basil is also useful as expectorant in dank, phlegmy respiratory conditions. For mental health it has a stimulating uplifting quality that makes it quite useful in aromatherapy. It has a warming quality and I like to think of it for people who feel cold, distant, tired, depressed and stagnant.
Dose: Often in culinary dishes or used as an essential oil/hydrosol in sprays, bath salts and massage oils. 5 drops essential oil to 10 ml of carrier oil.
Bee Balm (Monarda)
Latin: Monarda fistulosa (and other species)
Parts Used: Mainly leaves
Taste/Energetics: Warming, aromatic
Properties: Anxiolytic, antispasmodic, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antifungal, carminative, diaphoretic, emmenagogue, vulnerary
Actions: This is an herb that had mainly fallen out of use in the Western herbal tradition but is enjoying a resurgence due to its numerous useful medicinal properties. With its antimicrobial and diaphoretic properties, monarda is useful for fighting off colds and the flu. It has a nice soothing quality that can be useful for sore inflamed throats, especially when infused in honey.
It gently relaxes the stomach and any cramping and bloating to improve digestion. Its antispasmodic properties are also useful for spasming coughs and menstrual cramps. Externally, monarda can be used in salves for its ability to heal bruises, abrasions, bee stings and rashes.
Monarda is calmative and a nice herb to offer children, elderly or infirm due its gentle action (think similar to other gentle mint family plants like lemon balm).
Dosage: 1-2 tsp infused in hot water for 10 minutes. In tincture 1-2 ml to 2 x/day. Lovely in honeys, syrups, oxymels, etc.
Contraindications: Avoid in Pregnancy.
Latin: Citrus bergamia
Parts Used: Leaves, flowers
Taste/Energetics: Sour, cooling
Properties: Antimocrobial, anti-inflammatory, anti fungal, vulnerary, analgesic, anxiolytic, antidepressant, diaphoretic, immunostimulating, antispasmodic, carminative
Actions: This citrus fruit is well known for its use in Earl Grey teas and its wide application in aromatherapy. As you can see from its properties, it can be widely used for many things. In terms of physical health it is used to improve digestion, to reduce headaches, to induce a sweat at the start of a cold and can be used to promote wound healing.
In terms of mental health, bergamot is known for having a relaxing effect, reducing anxiety, nervous tension and the symptoms of insomnia. Bergamot also has an analgesic and antispasmodic quality that is useful for headaches, muscle tension, cramping and restless legs. Bergamot is used primarily as an essential oil in aromatherapy applications.
Dose: Used in essential oil/hydrosol in sprays, bath salts and massage oils. 5 drops essential oil in 10 ml of carrier oil.
Contraindications: Standard essential oil cautions
Latin: Areca catechu
Parts Used: Nut, leaves
Taste/Energetics: Spicy, bitter, sweet, warming
Properties: Stimulant, astringent, digestive tonic,
Actions: When I lived in a village in Northeast Thailand, I would often notice elder women chewing on something and spitting a lot. I found out later that they were chewing on betel nut, a seed of a palm tree. Betel is a commonly consumed herb in many parts of Asia and the nut has a stimulating, relaxing, aromatic and somewhat narcotic effect. The nut definitely induces a buzz and can be addictive. For many it gives a greater feeling of well-being, energy, stamina and euphoria if taken in large doses.
Though most folks in the West are unaware of it, betel is the fourth most common psychoactive substance in the world after nicotine, alcohol and caffeine. Over 600 million people use it regularly for its stimulating properties. It also appears to stimulate and improve digestion.
Dosage: Traditional style put a little pinch of the nut in your mouth and chew away. Its often also added to lime leaf and tobacco and sometimes other herbs such as cloves or cardamom to modulate its flavor and effect.
Contraindications: Betel is linked to numerous health risks when taken regularly such as increased risk of mouth and throat cancers. It also leads to gum and tooth decay when used excessively. Not to be used in pregnancy, with cardiac problems, hypertension.
Latin: Actaea racemosa (Cimicifuga)
Parts Used: Roots
Taste/Energetics: Bitter, cool
Properties: Antispasmodic, nervine relaxant, sadative, diaphoretic, female reproductive tonic, anti-inflammatory, analgesic
Actions: Black cohosh has a long history of use by Native Americans for a variety of concerns such as menstrual pain and cramping, rheumatism, backaches, spasmodic coughs and insomnia. This herb has become quite popular for women experiencing menopause and indeed it is quite useful for hot flashes, tension, cramps and hormonal fluctuations.
I tend to work with this plant on a couple levels. On a gross level, it is a strong herb that is nicely relaxing, releases muscle tension and for folks who have tics, neuralgia, generally arthritic pain and what Chinese medicine practitioners would call “wind.”
On a deeper level, I find it helpful for people who are in a fair bit of despair and are feeling dark with flashes of anger and deep rage at life’s circumstances. Black cohosh works at that deep level to soothe both the anger and the depression. I find that anger usually is associated with trauma and a feeling of being violated or deeply disrespected. When anger gets bottled inside it can start to make the individual feel deeply toxic. There its a feeling of deep stagnation, paralysis, held and frozen fear and tension that is often old. There is a feeling of being haunted, unable to move forward because of past sorrow. Black cohosh helps in the process of releasing and discharging that anger and depression in a way that is transformative and healing.
Dosage: 10 drops to 1 ml to 3 x/day, 1-2 tsp decocted in pint of water 40 minutes to 2x/day, in powder 250-500 mg to 3 x/day.
Contraindications: Avoid in pregnancy unless under the supervision of a professional at the end of pregnancy or during labor. This is the only herb that I have really messed up with to the point of vomiting. I mistook the tincture for another and took way too large a dose. Bad choice. So, be careful with the dosage on this one. It is an emetic at large doses. On a milder level it can cause dizziness and nausea as well. Generally avoid this if taking other sedative psychiatric meds.
Latin: Dicentra formosa
Parts Used: Roots
Taste/Energetics: Cooling, bitter
Propeties: Analgesic, nervine relaxant, tonic, alterative
Actions: This is an herb that is not frequently used, mainly because it is a tad rare in the wild and really shouldn’t be harvested in any abundance. One can find organic growers of this herb to purchase the root. Bleeding Heart has a lovely foliage and a shy little purplish heart shaped flower. Bleeding heart brings a nice calming energy and is especially helpful as a calmative agent for people who have experienced shock. It acts as a nervous system restorative and can be used for pain such as neuralgia and externally for toothache as well. I find it especially helpful as a flower essence or in “drop doses” for grief and loss, and what the Chinese call “shen disturbance”, a feeling of being unsettled and anxious at a deep heart and soul level.
Dosage: Generally to be taken in tincture form 1-2 ml to 3 x/day for gross effect. It is an herb that can work at a very low level (1-4 drops) or as a flower essence for trauma, shock, great sorrow/grief. Less commonly taken in tea form 1-2 tsp decoction to 2 x/day. You can place the chewed root on a painful tooth with an exposed nerve for temporary relief.
Contraindications: Its not an herb to gather in the field too much because it would quickly become endangered. It can be grown for medicinal purposes. Avoid large doses with other sedatives, in pregnancy.
Latin: Caulophyllum thalictroides
Parts Used: Roots
Taste/Energetics: Acrid, bitter, warming
Properties: Uterine tonic, antispasmodic, emmenagogue, diuretic, diaphoretic
Actions: Like Black cohosh, this plant is often used in women’s health, and this one is recommended for helping pregnant women who are challenged by a stalled labor and to ease the birthing pains. Blue cohosh is also useful for painful menstrual cramping as well as relieving the tension associated with PMS. It has also been used for those with bronchitis that is prolonged with wheezing, hacking spasmodic coughs. Also for arthritis and rheumatic conditions.
For mental health concerns I think of this herb for women who are experiencing strong mood disturbance around menstrual cycles. They may feel anxious, moody, intermittently angry and menstruation may be choppy, irregular or with scanty flow. It acts as a general relaxant while also promoting more easy flow of blood and qi. This herb can be good for anyone with a nervous condition who appears cold, deficient, tight and wound up.
Dosage: 1-2 tsp decoction to pint of water for 40 mins. Most commonly in tincture form 10 drops to 2 ml to 3 x/day.
Contraindications: Never take when pregnant except funder expert supervision to promote labor at time of birth. Avoid with other sedative drugs.
Latin: Borago officinalis
Parts Used: Aerial
Taste/Energetics: Cool, bitter, moist
Properties: Diaphoretic, demulcent, galactagogue, emollient, diuretic, anti-depressant
Actions: This is an herb that is quite helpful for cooling an overheated system and can be useful for lowering high fevers. It is also quite calming to bronchial passages, helping to soothe inflamed lungs or that long hacking dry cough. Borage is also helps bring on mother’s milk.
In terms of emotions, I tend to think of borage as fantastic for those who tend to be melancholic with a sad and closed down heart. Esteemed Renaissance herbalist Nicholas Culpeper wrote that it “gladdens the heart”. Borage gently cools overheated emotional states, such as people who are anxious, troubled and excessively angry, bringing calm and tranquility.
Dosage: This is a pretty bitter herb for folks to take as a tea by itself but it can definitely be added to formulas and I enjoy it that way. 1-2 tsp infused. to 3 x/day. As a tincture 2-3 ml to three times a day.
Bupleurum (Chai Hu)
Latin: Bupleurum chinense
Parts Used: Roots
Taste/Energetics: Bitter, Spicy, Cooling
Properties: Anxiolytic, hepatic tonic, stomachic, antispasmodic, carminative
Actions: Known as a “harmony herb” in Chinese medicine, the root of this herb is a common ingredient in one of the most common Chinese formulas for helping people who feel wound up, frustrated, tense, depressed and angry (“Free and Easy Wanderer”.) In Chinese medicinal philosophy, bupleurum helps strengthen the liver and allows for a free flow of blood and energy to circulate in the body and not get bound up and stagnant. In Chinese philosophy, the liver is associated with the emotion of anger and bupleurum helps disperse heat from the liver and associated toxic anger. I think of bupleurum as working for those who have been stuck in situations and patterns that have made them feel tight and obstructed. They feel bottled up due to their habits and/or life circumstances.
Dosage: Chinese style 5-15 grams in decoction as part of a formula. In tincture form 1-2 ml to 3 x/day.
Latin: Arctium lappa
Part Used: Roots, seeds
Taste/Energetics: Sweet, bitter, cooling
Properties: Nutritive, alterative, diaphoretic.
Actions: This is an herb that has long been used to strengthen the function of the liver and digestive system and to “cool heat” and detoxify the system with heat signs such as eczema, acne, boils. The old school herbalist term for this type of plant is an “alterative”, meaning to help act as a blood purifier. In this case, burdock acts a metabolic tonic, helping in the process of digestion and absorption. Essentially burdock helps the hepatic digestive system to work more efficiently, to assimilate and eliminate waste materials more effectively.
With significant amounts of inulin, a prebiotic that is useful for improving the microbial flora in the gut, burdock is useful for those who have damaged their internal stomach terrain with excessive use of prescription drugs, antibiotics, processed foods, soda pop, sugar and a heavy hard to digest diet. This can easily translate into increased lethargy, depression, anxiety, autominnune disease and general debility. Though improving diet is first on the list, burdock root can be a really helpful ally in that process.
On an emotional level, this is also for those who run a little too hot, a little too hard on themselves and are using up their resources and burning up their essence. They may feel moody and labile in mood. It helps people to slow down, cool down, ground and feel nourished at their core.
Dose: This is an herb that I really recommend taking in whole form and not as a tincture. Try adding it to bone broth, soups, stir frys, and in decoctions and tea formulas. Its full effect comes from its nutritive strength which can be best received when extracted with heat and water. Give this one time- its effect is noticeable with continued and prolonged use. 5-15 grams a day.
Latin: Theobroma cacao
Family: Malvaceae (Sterculiaceae)
Parts Used: Seed
Taste/Energetics: Heating, spicy, bitter
Properties: Diaphoretic, Stimulant, expectorant, antidepressant, aphrodisiac
Actions: Cacao is the active ingredient to make chocolate, one of the most loved and consumed foods in the world. Besides containing caffeine, cacao has long been known to elicit feelings of pleasure and joy that are attributed to it containing the constituent theobromine. This alkaloid mimics caffeine in having stimulating qualities, increasing vasodilation and diuresis. Though theobromine is accented, cacao actually has hundereds of compound that work synergistically to give it its magical effect.
Cacao has numerous health effects that have been documented such as improving cardiovascular health due to anti-inflammatory flavonoids. It stimulates digestive processes, helps act as a circulatory stimulant and improves cognitive function such as alertness and memory.
In terms of mental health, cacao has no parallel. Its hard to be sad after receiving a nice warm cup of hot chocolate. For temporary relief of sadness and glooom, cacao can be a marvelous ally. For moody irritability often associated with pre menstrual tension, chocolate has long been known to be a good friend. Cacao stimulates, heightens awareness, promotes joy, creativity and play. It warms the heart and acts as an aphrodisiac for those who want to stoke that fire. Like all stimulants it can wear a person out eventually and should be used with some moderation.
On a larger ecological level, we need to be very concerned where we source our chocolate. The cacao industry. 2/3rds of our cacao comes from West Africa and it is a 90 billion dollar industry that is largely fueled by child slave labor. Like all herbs we need to think about their provenance but this is even more the case with cacao and chocolate. There are a number of places where we can source cacao from organic growers who use healthy labor practices.
Cacao has been traditionally been revered as one of the most important deities to the Mayans. Cacao is still an important part of spiritual traditions in modern indigenous cultures in Central and South America. Its key to think of this plant in terms of that lineage of traditional indigenous usage.
Dosage: Hmmm…what is too much chocolate? Cacao is usually mixed with sweetener and a fat cut as butter or coconut oil to produce sweet tasting chocolate. Raw cacao nibs can also be added to smoothies but are fairly bitter to eat alone.
Contraindications: What? You don’t like chocolate?
Latin: Acorus calamus (look at american versus chinese)
Parts Used: Primarily rhizomes
Taste/Energetics: Bitter, spicy, warming, aromatic
Properties: Anxiolytic, sedative, laxative, antimicrobial, diuretic, carminative, antispasmodic
Actions: In traditional Chinese Medicine, the bitter and aromatic qualities of calamus (Shui cheng pu) have long been used to help with digestion, for nausea, heartburn, ulcers, and constipation. It also has been used to “clear phlegm misting the heart orifices.” Those poetic words refer to those who are so clouded and wired that they appear manic and delusional. Essentially it has been used to help quell a mania as well as for seizures and trembling,. In Ayurvedic medicine, where it is known as “Vacha”, it has also been used to help those who experience seizures, epilepsy, shock, scattered thinking and confusion. It is also seen as specifically stimulating to the throat center and useful for those who are speaking poorly, stuttering, or with fast rapid blurred speech. This is also noted by Native North Americans who at times have used calamus to help improve ones voice for singing.
(American) Today, a number of Western herbalists are using it to help those who are experiencing the heightened fight or flight adrenaline rush with feelings of dissociation and confusion associated with PTSD. Herbalist Jim McDonald has quite a bit of experience with this plant and describes it as useful for those with “deficient/sluggish/stagnant digestive states, associated with tension, and perhaps infection or putrefaction.” He also notes its excellent effect on the sinus and bronchial passages. helping to reduce “sore throats, irritable coughs, chest colds and head colds.” McDonald also describes it as an over all energy tonic, both relaxing and stimulating the body and the senses. He describes it as useful for “panic and anxiety attacks” and stuck mental states.
Dosage: This is an herb to be used sparingly or in small amounts in tea formulas. Dosage generally 1-3 grams a day or as tincture 1-2 ml twice a day. Chewing a small piece of the root is a good place to start.
Contraindications: Avoid with other sedatives, in pregnancy.
Latin: Eschscholzia californica
Parts Used: Leaves, flowers
Taste/Energetics: Bitter, cooling
Properties: analgesic, moderately relaxing nervine.
Actions: C. Poppy is from the Poppy family plants and is a cousin to the classic opium popopy. Its effect is not nearly as obvious and pronounced and that is a good thing- otherwise it would be illegal and you could never find it out in the wild because it would have been foraged to extinction. C. Poppy is useful for those who need some gentle pain relief and a gentle relaxant. I find it to have a gentle pleasant effect and can be useful for those who are trying to reduce analgesics and opiates in general. C. Poppy is quite nice in formulas with other analgesics such as Jamaican Dogwood and Betony. This is a quick acting herb with gentle relieving qualities.
Dose: Generally as tincture from 2-5 ml up to twice a day. As infusion 1-2 tsp to cup of hot water for 10 minutes.
Contraindications: Avoid with heavy sedatives, analgesics.
Latin: Cinnamonum camphor
Parts Used: Distillation from leaves and occasionally fruit and bark.
Taste/Energetics: Bitter, pungent, cooling
Properties: Antimicrobial, antiviral, sedative, antispasmodic, stimulant, analgesic, expectorant
Actions: The leaves from this tree are primarily used as an essential oil. Traditionally it grows well in sub-tropical climates in places such as China, Madagascar , India and Ceylon. Generally the leaves of this tree are distilled to make aromatic smelling camphor oil. It is quite pungent and acrid and can be toxic if taken internally. It is used commercially for artist’s paints, inks, varnish and for burning. It can be used in salves and liniments in very small amounts and useful for sprains, bruises and muscle pain, restlessness and cramping. Medicinally camphor has antimicrobial properties, is antiviral for shingles and is useful for infections, especially of the lungs.
In terms of mental health camphor I tend to think of camphor in salves and liniments primarily for those who are frustrated and restless with symptoms of pain such as arthritis, gout, and rheumatism. Camphor helps move and circulate the blood so there is less blockage and tension in the tissues and therefore brings pain relief and relaxation. It has been used to calm mania, hysteria, panic and anxiety and interestingly the scent can become so overpowering and intoxicating that people can get hooked on it.
Dose: Most often used used in essential oil in sprays, bath salts and massage oils. 5 drops essential oil in 10 ml of carrier oil.
Contraindications: Standard essential oil precautions. Do not take internally.
Latin: Cannabis sativa
Parts Used: Flower, leaf
Taste/Energetics: Bitter, sweet, cooling
Properties: Analgesic, antispasmodic, entheogenic, anxiolytic, stimulant, euphoric
Actions: So much has been said about this amazing plant that its hard to think of what to add but I’ll make my own notes. Cannabis in flower form (marijuana) and its derivatives have become an enormous industry over the last few decades and increasingly due to the advent of it becoming legalized in many states, either recreationally, medicinally, or both. Through the hybridization process new strains are being created and growers are now able to change and augment the dozens of compounds such as CBD, THC and CBDA found in marijuana at a level never previous seen. Some strains have upwards of 25 % THC, the main stimulating, euphoric and entheogenic constituent found in pot. They are also able to create strains that have very high levels (>20%) CBD, the constituent most responsible for anxiety and pain relief in the plant. Because of the amazing level of modification of this plant, medicines can be made that are specifically attuned to a person’s individual’s needs. Some may want to have stimulating, energizing effects while another may want tranquilizing effects for a condition such as insomnia. Because it is fat soluble it is also easily transformed into baked goods and edibles that can be extraordinarily potent. For some people, taking a large dose of an edible can be akin to taking a hallucinogen such as mushrooms or acid.
Marijuana has a long history of usage for many conditions such as epilepsy, tremors, cramping, pain, neuralgia, insomnia, for its antidepressant qualities and to reduce anxiety in some. It has a very heterogeneous effect that can cause opposite reactions in different users. Certainly many people feel a heightened feeling of anxiety, fear and paranoia- most likely from varietals that are high in THC.
For many, marijuana can be profoundly helpful by encouraging greater appreciation of one’s experience, deeper insight, increased creativity and connectedness to others. When taken with care and appreciation, marijuana can be a deeply sacred medicine, helping to slow down time and bring a sense of wonder, luminosity and meaning to everyday tasks and experiences.
On an energetic level, many traditional practitioners from Ayurvedic and TCM backgrounds warn against excessive use for a number of reasons. Smoking it can increase heat and dryness in the system leading to worsening problems in the lungs, throat and eventually lead to depletion and exhaustion. The nature of the plant can also be obstructive and dampening, leading to a feeling of being clouded, lethargic and emotionally distant if used chronically. High THC plants also have the ability to cause psychosis in some individuals which can be dangerous for those prone to extreme states. I have seen marijuana cause deeply psychotic manias in my clients who are diagnosed with bipolar and schizophrenia so great caution should be taken here. At the same time, research in vivo is pointing to the efficacy of high CBD varietals as an antipsychotic for individuals in the throws of a mania, or prone to mania.
Even with concerns about long term use, in terms of health effects, pot is often a much better choice as a medicine than many pharmaceuticals such as opiates or benzodiazapenes. While those substances are far more addictive, cause horrific withdrawal problems and can lead to disfunction, that is much more rare with marijuana. While marijuana can interfere with some people’s lives in ways that are damaging, there is no potential for lethality found in pharmaceutical medicines.
There is increasing evidence that the legalization movements changing the way people are approaching mental health In legal states there has been a dramatic decrease in prescriptions of standard psychiatric tranquilizers, anxiolytics and pain meds. People feel empowered by being able to grow, make and choose their medicine and the dosage. Even with some of the problems associated with the cannabis industry this is a movement in a very good direction.
As an herbalist I would personally like to see the cannabis as medicine movement shift to primarily encouraging organic, outdoor grown marijuana as opposed to indoor, highly chemically treated strains that are ubiquitous. If we are going to use pot commonly as our medicine, we need a better relationship to this plant and treat it with greater respect and love.
Dosage: Tricky question with pot. Tolerance develops in long term use and one puff of pot can send someone into frantic paranoia while another could take bong tokes of bowl after bowl of high potency weed without ill effect. So dosage of smoking this plant depends. With edibles,10 milligrams of the plant has been seen as a standard dose here in Oregon and I would agree. One of the best ways I know for dosing edibles is to use a tincture. That way one can fine tune exactly how much wants to use. In general, reducing the ill effects of smoke is the best option for folks who use this plant regularly. Using a vaporizer or taking small doses of edibles is a better path for the health of the body.
Contraindications: Read above.
Latin: Carum carvi
Parts Used: Fruit/seed
Taste/Energetics: Sweet, spicy, gently warming
Properties: Carminative, antispasmodic, emmenagogue, galactagogue, uplifting
Actions: This is another plant from the carrot/parsely family that has a potent uplifting smell. Like many culinary herbs it helps us to digest our food better, is gently antispasmodic for cramping and it is gently stimulating, helping improve blood flow in menstruation and for promoting milk for nursing mothers. It traditionally comes from the Middle East and India and was brought to Europe in the 13th century. In terms of mental health, caraway can be taken in food or as part of aromatherapy for those who feel sluggish, pale, stressed, tired and wan. It warms and stimulates gently and improves the mood.
Dose: Taken in meals or used in essential oil in sprays, bath salts and massage oils. 5 drops essential oil in 10 ml of carrier oil.
Contraindications: Avoid essential oil use during pregnancy
Latin: Elettaria cardamom
Parts Used: Ground seeds
Taste/Energetics: Spicy, warming
Properties: Carminative, antispasmodic, antidepressant, antimicrobial, circulatory stimulant, anti-emetic, aphrodisiac.
Actions: Cardamom is one of the premier spices that we can add to our meals to improve overall health and wellbeing. As one of the most common spices in Indian and Middle Eastern herbs it has long been renowned for its delicious aroma as well its health giving properties. Cardamom helps improve digestion, cardiovascular health, stimulates blood circulation, freshens the breath, relaxes the body and is antimicrobial for fighting infections. In terms of mental health, it is gently uplifting, warming and antidepressant, is antispasmodic for cramping, and is wonderful for those who feel, cold, detached, stuck, depressed and disconnected.
Dosage: The seeds are best crushed up fresh and added to meals. Traditionally in India it is added to honey to decrease inflammation, cramping and pain. It also has a strong place as an essential oil in aromatherapy where it is used in sprays, bath salts and massage oils. 5 drops essential oil in 10 ml of carrier oil.
Latin: Nepeta cataria
Parts Used: Leaves and flowers
Taste/Energetics: Bitter, cooling, drying
Properties: Antispasmodic, carminative, nervine, mild diaphoretic and emmenagogue
Actions: Known for its ability to make cats “stoned”, it is a lovely gentle relaxing herb and especially helpful for young kids and the elderly. Its gentle tranquilizing nature will help those who are “hot and wired” and kids who tend to be impulsive and explosive. It is also an easy plant to grow in the yard , though you may want to watch out if you have cats who like to eat it up.
Dosage: 1-2 tsp to one cup of water infusion. 1-3 ml tincture to 3 x/day.
Contraindications: Avoid during pregnancy
Latin: Trichilia catigua
Parts Used: Bark
Taste/Energetics: Bitter, Warming, Drying
Properties: Stimulant, diaphoretic, nootropic, anxiolytic, antidepressant, aphrodisiac
Actions: This is a Brazilian herb that has primarily become popular due to its aphrodisiac properties. This bark has a stimulant effect that some liken to coca leaf but it carries different “tropane alkaloids” that have a marked effect on improving mood, cognitive acuity, memory and overall energy levels. It is vasodilating and that added to its stimulating effect allows for men to achieve erection for longer periods of time.
The effect of this herb is both stimulating and relaxing, warming and can be useful symptomatically for those who are cold, lethargic, anxious and have challenges around sex such as performance anxiety. At a deeper level, sexual performance should not be regularly enhanced by a drug or an herb symptomatically. There is a need to address the deeper issues that may be happening such as trauma, depletion, exhaustion and excessive stress.
This is an herb long used by the Tipi Natives of Brazil and like all herbs that have been “discovered” recently by the herbal industry, we need to be very careful of how and where it is procured and the ethics of taking a traditional indigenous herb without giving back to that culture.
Dosage: 2-4 tsp herb decocted for 30-40 minutes in pint of water. Peak effect in half hour- total effect lasts about 4 hours.
Contraindications: Overstimulation possible at higher doses, avoid with hypertension, with other stimulants, sexual enhancement drugs, etc.
Cats Claw (Una de Gato)
Latin: Uncaria tomentosa
Parts Used: Bark, root, leaves
Properties: Analgesic, potentially anti tumoral, vulnerary, immunomodulatory, anti-inflammatory. antimicrobial, antiviral, adaptogenic
Actions: Cats claw has long been used by indigenous peoples in South America to treat a wide variety of conditions such as arthritis, stomach inflammation, ulcers, wound healing, gastritis, and Crohn’s disease. There is quite a bit of discussion around its use for helping treat severe illnesses such as cancer and AIDS. There has been some research showing some effectiveness but most medical authorities discount this.?? Cats Claw has also been used to help reduce symptomatic outbreaks of the herpes virus, shingles and cold sores.
In terms of mental health, Cat’s Claw is tonic and strengthening, improving immune function, building resiliency, stamina and energy reserves. This makes it useful for folks who have heightened anxiety, a history of trauma or under great stress.
This is another South American herb that has become very popular and is one of the lead selling “panacea” herbs. Again we must be cautious about any possible overharvesting of this herb and procuring it from good reputable and ethical sources.
Dosage: Most often taken in capsule form 500 mg-2g/up to 3 x a day. Can be taken as a decoction 2-4 tsp in pint of water to 3 x/day. Tincture 1-3 ml to 3 x/day.
Contraindications: Occasional allergies, rashes, itching, diarrhea, constipation, one case of renal damage. Avoid in pregnancy.
Latin: Capsicum annuum
Parts Used: Fruits
Taste/Energetics: Hot, Spicy
Properties: Expectorant, diaphoretic, analgesic, stimulant
Actions: Traditionally used by Native Americans for 10,000 years, cayenne is one of the most commonly recognized herbs due to its extremely hot flavor. Used as an ingredient in many Hispanic and Asian dishes, it strongly flavors dishes and generally causes the person to sweat. Though the immediate effect is heating, this actually helps cool down the individual which could be quite helpful in hot climates where cayenne grows. The main constituent capsaicin gives the peppers the hot flavor. Cayenne is commonly used internally and externally in liniments for sprains, neuralgic pain and arthritis. Internally, cayenne is stimulating, helping improve circulation and digestive function.
In terms of mental health, cayenne is quite helpful for those who run cold, are sluggish and tight, internally frustrated and depressed. It is also helpful as a liniment for folks who feel sad and frustrated due to neuralgic cramping pain.
Dose: Internally it is best prepared in meals. The dose is pretty subjective. You’ll know when you’ve reached your limit. It can be taken in capsules but the salivary glands don’t get the “hit” from tasting the pepper. Externally, it can be prepared as a liniment or salve.
Contraindications: Hmmm…have you ever eaten too many cayenne peppers?
Cedar (Western Red)
Latin: Thuja plicata
Parts Used: Leaves primarily
Taste/Energetics: Spicy, stimulating, warming
Properties: Antifungal, antimicrobial, stimulating, expectorant, immunostimulating, emmenagogue, antispasmodic.
Actions: Cedar is the most important plant to coastal Native Northwest indigenous peoples and has been used for everything from clothing, baskets, bowls, plates, transportation (canoes) and to make housing, it is also highly revered as smudge and for its medicinal properties. Cedar does not break down easily due to a constituent thujaplicin which is antifungal. Becomes of this, cedar has long been used to make durable items that would normally break down in damp tulgy forests of the Northwest. Cedar is antimicrobial and stimulating to the bronchial passages and is useful for coughs, colds and and bronchitis. Its stimulating properties make it useful for improving circulation and menstrual flow. It is also useful externally for fungal infections such as ringworm and as a form of insect control.
In terns of mental health, cedar is quite a powerful ally. Smudging is one of the best ways of working with this plant by simply drying a few short branches and then bundling them together. The scent of this plant brings a feeling of quiet strength and grace. One can also add cedar (directly or via essential oil in a carrier) to baths for greater relaxation. Cedar has a strong beautiful presence that seems to wrap you in their arms, bringing greater peace when life feels overwhelming and troubled. One of the best ways to work with this tree is to simply go visit it and sit beneath its sweeping branches and feel its gentle powerful spirit.
Dosage: As an essential oil and tincture it carries thujone, a constituent known to be toxic at certain levels. Because of this one should be careful in its application and internal useage. As a tincture I recommend taking 5-10 drops for no more than three times a day for immune enhancement and for no more than about 5 days. As an essential oil, some folks are very sensitive to it so one should take precautions about its usage in that way. Standard decoction.
Contraindications: Avoid in pregnancy. For internal and external applications, use sparingly and carefully
Cedar wood (Cedrus)
Latin: Cedrus atlantica
Parts Used: Needles, as essential oil, hydrosol, or incense.
Taste/Energetics: Stimulating, warming
Properties: Diaphoretic, expectorant, circulatory stimulant, antispasmodic, astringent, diuretic, anxiolytic, emmenagogue
Actions: A cold climate native with a strong rich scent, cedar wood is often used as an aromatic aid to relieve cramping and spasms that happen in the digestive, uterine and respiratory system. Its useful externally for irritating itching due to eczema and for general dryness due to stagnation and poor circulation. Its ability to help with circulation also makes it useful via scent inhalation and as an external liniment for arthritis and rheumatism. in people In terms of mental health it is another nice warming, stimulating conifer aromatic that is helpful for those who feel stagnant, tight, lethargic and heavy.
Dosage: Most often used used in essential oil in sprays, bath salts and massage oils. 5 drops essential oil in 10 ml of carrier oil.
Contraindications: Avoid in pregnancy.
Latin: Matricaria recutita
Parts Used: Flowers
Taste/Energetics: Slightly bitter, sweet, aromatic
Properties: Anxiolytic, carminative, antimicrobial, antispasmodic
Actions: One of the most commonly used relaxant herbs. Very helpful for those who have anxiety that goes to their stomach and another herb that is very mild and therefore helpful for elders and children. Classic for insomnia and for tired and wired restlessness. Some folks (including myself) don’t do well with chamomile and get headaches or feel a bit off from it.
Dosage: Best taken as a tea by itself or in formulas. 2-3 tsp per cup of hot water infusion.
Contraindications: Some have sensitivities to it.
Chrysanthemum (Bai ju hua)
Latin: Chrysanthemum sinense
Parts Used: Flowers
Taste/Energetics: Bitter, sweet, cold
Properties: Diaphoretic, antimicrobial, hypotensive, anxiolytic
Actions: Primarily used in Chinese medicine, chrysanthemum has a nice cooling energy that makes it useful for hot inflamed conditions such as red painful eyes, hypertension and feverish colds and flu. It is a gentle herb that can be taken by itself and is akin to chamomile in its gentle, heat clearing and relaxing properties. In Chinese medicine it has a special affinity to “hot” and “sluggish” liver conditions that express themselves as irritability, skin eruptions, anger outbursts and poor digestion. Useful for elderly, infirm and young children as well due to its gentle qualities.
Dose: 1-3 tsp. infused 10 minutes in cup of hot water.
Contraindications: Some have a sensitivity to it similar to other Aster family plants.
Latin: Maytenus krukovii (macrocarpa)
Parts Used: Mainly bark, also leaves and root
Properties: Antininflammatory, analgesic, astringent, aphrodisiac, circulatory stimulant, antispasmodic
Actions: This is a plant from the Amazonian rainforest that is extremely popular in places in South America such as Peru. This is seen as a panacea herb by many there and is traditionally used to relieve pain for conditions such as arthritis, rheumatism, menstrual cramping and neuralgia. It has a tonic stimulating effect and is used commonly by people to give an overall invigorating effect and to improve the libido. It appears to improve overall ability to heal from sickness and has immune strengthening proeperties.
This is an herb that is uncommon in the States but a number of folks are looking for holistic alternatives to pain meds and are finding relief from arthritis pain.
Dosage: 2-4 teaspoons decocted in pint of water for 40 minutes. As tincture 2-4 ml, to 3 times a day. If you travel to markets to the Amazon you can find it as a local liquor infused with the bark.
Contraindications: Avoid for those with hypertension, taking blood pressure meds, in pregnancy.
Latin: Cinnamomum burmanii, aromaticum, zeylanicum and cassia
Parts Used: Leaf and bark
Taste/Energetics: Pungent, sweet, heating
Properties: Stimulating, astringent, restorative, diaphoretic, carminative, antispasmodic, antimicrobial
Actions: Ah cinnamon. As one of the most popular herbs it has been used for thousands of years dating back to early Egyptian civilization. With its stimulating, uplifting and warming qualities it has long been added to meals, beverages, cosmetics and medicines. In India one of the most famous warming spice blends that contains cinnamon is Garam masala. Meaning “sweet wood”, cinnamon has numerous effects including improving digestion, blood and “qi” circulation and has a nice warming and salutary effect for those who feel cold and lethargic. It is helpful for the onset of a cold by inducing sweating and can help fight off infections. Its stimulating qualities make it helpful for those who have arthritic and rheumatic pain and feel damp and stuck. Externally it can be added to liniments for aching muscles, restless legs and neuralgia. Finally, it has been shown to be useful in the treatment of diabetes and has the ability to help control blood sugar levels.
In terms of mental health, this is an herb that is wonderful to offer to people who appear cold, detached, withdrawn and depressed. It helps warm, move the energy and uplift the spirit. It is a nice herb to add to meals or as part of a chai so the person really tastes the energetics of cinnamon first on the tongue and then in the belly. It can also be used as an essential oil in blends for its warming and stimulating qualities.
Dosage: 1/2 to 1 teaspoon powder in meals or one to two twigs added to teas each day. As essential oil, 2-3 drops essential oil in 10 ml of carrier oil.
Contraindications: Can be overheating and drying when taken for prolonged periods.
Cistanche (Rou Cong Rong)
Latin: Cistanche tubulosa, deserticola, sinensis, others
Parts Used: The meaty part of the stem
Taste/Energetics: Sweet, slightly bitter, warming
Properties: Nootropic and neuroprotective, tonic, aphrodisiac, cardioprotective, gently laxative
Actions: This is an herb with a long history of use in Chinese Medicine. Cistanche has been used to gently strengthen health, improve virility and overall vitality. It is considered one of the best herbs to strengthen immune function, improves libido and fertility, improves circulatory function, lowers blood pressure and is preventative for strokes. It is also nutrient rich and in Chinese Medicine language it is helpful for “building kidney yang, blood and essence”. That means it is useful for those who feel weak, impotent, forgetful, anemic, pale and sad. Memory and cognitive acuity is also improved with this supreme tonic. Cistanche is also gently moistening and helpful as a gentle laxative for constipation.
This is an herb commonly given to those who are aging with deteriorating health, parkinson disease, chronic fatigue syndrome and depression. The deserticola species is endangered in the wild, there are a number of alternate species that have similar effect. Only ethically harvested species should be purchased.
Dosage: Often taken in Chinese medicine from 5-15 grams as part of larger formulas for “building blood” and strengthening “kidney yang”. Taken in powders and capsules from 1-4 grams a day.
Contraindications: Avoid for those with diarrhea, strong heat signs
Latin: Citrus aurantium, sinsensis
Parts Used: Peel
Taste/Energetics: sour, sweet, cooling
Properties: Carminative, antimicrobial, antispasmodic, uplifting, anxiolytic, hypotensive, anti-depressant, circulatory stimulant.
Actions: Citrus peel from a variety of species has been used for thousands of years in traditional medicinal formulas to help improve digestion, to fight off colds and flu, to help relax and calm the body, lower blood pressure, promote good liver function, reduce nausea and to improve respiration. One of the best ways I know how to use citrus as a beverage is to add a little squeezed lime juice to a drink in the morning to promote healthy digestion. There are a number of different citrus essential oils including orange, blood orange, lemon, bitter orange, lime, mandarin, neroli and bergamot. Some of these I describe directly in this section but all have distinct scents that are anxiolytic and anti-depressant in nature.
Dosage: Standard essential oil usage. As juice squeezed into beverages or peel for teas and decoctions.
Latin: Salvia sclarea
Parts Used: Leaves, flowers
Taste/Energetics: Pungent, bitter, gently stimulating and warming
Properties: Antimicrobial, antispasmodic, astringent, stimulating, antidepressant.
Actions: This is a lovely aromatic herb from the mint family that is useful for reducing muscle tesnion, calming and helping relax the uterine muscles to improve menstrual flow. It is useful for spasmodic respiratory problems such as asthma or a hacking cough and gently improves digestion when there is cramping and bloating. Externally its astringent quality makes it helpful as an oil for skin care issues such as dandruff, oily skin and wrinkles. In terms of mental health, it is quite helpful for those who feel bound up, tense, stressed out and nervous with underlying exhaustion. There may be associated feelings of fear and is helpful for gently moving the energy when one feels blocked and stagnant. Clary sage feels revitalizing and rejuvenating. I generally work with this plant in essential oil blends via aromatherapy.
Dosage: Most often used used in essential oil in sprays, bath salts and massage oils. 5 drops essential oil in 10 ml of carrier oil. As her 1-2 tsp to cup of hot water infused for 10 minutes.
Contraindications: Standard essential oil precautions.
Cnidum (Shi Chuang Zi)
Latin: Cnidum monnieri
Parts Used: Seeds
Taste/Energetics: Bitter, acrid, warming
Properties: Aphrodisiac, antimicrobial, antifungal, antiinflammatory, analgesic, hypotensive, expectorant, circulatory tonic
Actions: This is a Chinese herb that is commonly used for sexual dysfunction such as premature ejaculation, erectile dysfunction, abnormal vaginal discharge and is known for increasing both men and women’s libido and treating infertility. Cnidum is also useful for treating skin conditions externally such as ringworm, rashes, eczema, vaginitis due to its anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal and anti-microbial properties.
Dosage: 1-3 grams in capsules daily, 3-9 grams in decoction, or in salve/cream
Contraindications: Can induce nausea, drowsiness, stomach upset in some at large doses internally.
Latin: Erythroxylum coca
Parts Used: Leaves
Taste/Energetics: Bitter, pungent
Properties: Stimulant, analgesic,
Actions: Sometimes its amazing to think that a small plant could spawn multi-billion dollar drug cartels, untold pain, addiction and violence, guerilla wars and international efforts to eradicate it. As a strong stimulant, the active alkaloid cocaine has been processed from coca leaf and is the second most common recreational drug found throughout the world (after marijuana). Cocaine is so popular that hundreds of billions of pounds of this substance are processed and sold yearly. Cocaine tends to increase strong feelings of pleasure, energy, stamina, increases libido and heart rate. Cocaine acts for only a short period of time (15-90 minutes) and is highly addictive and damaging with prolonged use.
The coca leaf on the other hand has long been used by South Americans to improve energy levels, reduce fatigue, hunger and to ward off altitude sickness with no deleterious effect. Generally it is chewed along with lime in order to make it more bioavailable. Coca leaf is also highly nutrient rich and has analgesic properties.
This is obviously a much abused plant that is illegal here in the states so is not something that would be commonly available. Like other stimulants, the raw leaf could be helpful for those needing symptomatic relief of fatigue.
Dosage: When coca leaves are processed into cocaine, a typical “line” of coke has about 20-30 mg of the cocaine alkaloid. Compare that to a gram of leaf that contains about 4.2 mg of cocaine. When made into a tea of 1-3 grams infused in hot water for 15 minutes, the total cocaine alkaloid is relatively small and is also offset by other constituents so that the overall effect is not excessive. Traditionally, leaves are chewed for their stimulant effect as well. Like most substances, the problem comes when we refine and process plants to extract their most potent constituents and then consume them regularly in large amounts.
Contraindications: Umm, its illegal. Also, avoid when taking other stimulant drugs, if one has hypertension, if pregnant.
Codonopsis (Dang Shen)
Latin: Codonopsis pilosula
Parts Used: Roots
Taste/Energetics: Sweet, Neutral in temperature
Properties: Tonic, adaptogenic, nourishing, strengthening to digestion, lungs
Actions: Also known as the “poor man’s ginseng” because of its use as a cheaper, easier to grow substitute for that herb, codonopsis is a wonderful tonic herb that is not as heating as ginseng and can be used by a much wider population because it is gentler in nature. Commonly found in soups in China it is seen as a restorative “qi tonic” that can help nourish vitality.
Though it is called an adaptogen by some, it is best just to think of this herb as a tonic which fortifies immune function, improves digestion, is great for people who are weak, feeble and for those who have endured great stress through trauma or shock. It is best to be used continually for long periods of time to rebuild strength and vitality. It has an affinity for the digestive system, improving overall digestion and absorption and thereby reducing fatigue. It also is helpful for strengthening bronchial function and is good for those who feel weak with long standing asthma and bronchial complaints.
Dosage: Traditionally formulas calling for ginseng required three times as much codonopsis as a replacement because it is much milder in effect. Famed herbalist Subhuti Dharmananda calls for using quite a bit of this herb in any formula (9-30 grams per day) to get a good effect. This is not an herb that works great in tinctures and certainly not in capsules (you just don’t get enough of a dose to be that effective.) It is best used in whole form as part of decoctions or in soups. My favorite way to work with this herb is to add it with other herbs in a stock pot with bones to make a richly herbed strengthening and tonic bone broth.
Latin: Coffea arabica
Parts Used: Fruit seeds/aka beans
Taste/Energetics: Acrid, Stimulating, heating, bitter
Properties: Diuretic, diaphoretic, stimulant, promotes persistalsis,
Actions: Ah coffee. Its the substance of life for some. The reason to get up in the morning. Vroom vroom medicine. A jolt of pleasure and instant energy. On the downside it has long been noted for increasing anxiety, restlessness, jittery feelings and insomnia for some.
Coffee is stimulating and moving, promoting digestion and elimination. With a preponderance of the alkaloid caffeine, coffee excites the nervous system, increases diuresis, improves circulation, raises the metabolic rate and improves cognitive function and memory. A number of studies point to coffee being helpful for reducing the symptoms of asthma, lowering cholesterol and even reducing the potential for stroke.
From a Traditional Chinese Medicine persepctive, coffee can deplete the adrenals and the kidney essence (jing) which leads to feeling of exhaustion, burnout and depletion in some. This seems to affect those who are already excitable, prone to anxiety and more stressed out and weak in nature. I think of this in terms of Ayurvedic medicine. Coffee is best for those who are a tad lethargic, heavy, slow with difficulty waking (kapha type) and not as good for those who are strongly fiery, forceful and at times angry (pitta) and strongly airy, excitable and nervous (vata).
Dosage: Hmmm. how much coffee? While there are general recommendations that suggest that 400 mg of caffeine (3-4 cups of coffee) is safe for healthy adults, that would be an absurd amount for many folks, causing an extreme rush of energy and associated mania and anxiety. I have seen those prone to mania pushed towards more extremes of energy just under the influence of coffee and energy drinks. The dosage is really variable per person and depends on one’s tolerance level and personal constitution. An average 8 oz. cup contains about 100 mg and is often enough of a daily dose for many consumers.
Contraindications: Avoid if prone to anxiety, hypertension, insomnia and mania.
Cordyceps (Dong Chong Xia Cao)
Latin: Cordyceps militaris
Parts Used: Hmmm. How to put this. A fungus gets inside a host caterpillar and then slowly digests the insect and then will eventually erupt out of the head. So cordyceps is the medicine found from fungi that have exploded out of a caterpillar. Yum!
Taste/Energetics: Sweet, slightly warm
Properties: Anxiolytic, immunomodulatory, adaptogen, anti-tumoral,
Actions: Coming to us primarily due its use by traditional Chinese and Tibetan cultures, cordyceps has long been used for its tonic rejuvenating properties and its ability to strengthen bronchial, kidney and reproductive function. IN Chinese medicine it is said to strengthen our very essence, or storehouse of energy (jing) and is useful for those who are worn out, tired and might be experiencing impotence, general weakness, debility spontaneous sweating and a feeling of getting old early. It will help improve energy levels, immunity, stamina, sleeping patterns and endurance. It is also useful for those with bronchial complaints such as asthma, and chronic coughing.
Dosage: Like many tonic herbs I think this is best taken as a decoction or to be added to stews/soups. 5-10 grams daily. It is a pretty strong tasting herb so it is generally taken in formulas with other herbs and that is how I like to work with cordyceps. It is less effective as a powder or in capsules because you will simply get less. Also less potent as a tincture.
Contraindications: No adverse side effects reported.
Corydalis (Yan hu suo)
Latin: Corydalis tomentellae siccata
Parts Used: Tuber and bulb
Taste/Energetics: Spicy, bitter, warming
Properties: Circulatory stimulant, analgesic, sedative, hypnotic.
Actions: This is an herb used by traditional Chinese medicine practitioners for pain relief and specifically for neuralgia. Coming from the Poppy family it contains the constituent dehydrocorybulbine (DHCB) that is the main analgesic alkaloid in Corydalis. Per herbalist Michael Tierra, “Unlike poppy and its biochemical derivatives, DHCB does not necessitate the raising of doses with its subsequent addiction as do other conventional pain relievers.” While pharmaceutical companies are busy trying to replicate this one constituent, it should be noted that corydalis contains numerous other pain relieving alkaloids which contribute to the plant’s analgesic effect. After opium poppy, TCM practitioners consider corydalis to be the most potent pain reliever.
This is a plant to primarily use for neuralgia, arthritis, fibromyalgia and chronic pain. It is also quite sedative and helpful for pain that leads to insomnia. It stimulates blood flow which is useful for that type of stuck neuralgic and arthritic pain that doesn’t seem to budge. The warming and moving action of corydalis helps to reduce pain as well. There is a strong need for alternatives to the long term use of opiate pain meds as there is considerable evidence of an epidemic of addiction and lethal overdoses with that class of drug. Corydalis provides one option.
Dosage: Traditionally 3-9 grams in decoction, .5-1.5 grams as powder. Often used in the West as a tincture 1-2 ml as needed to several times a day.
Contraindications: This is a strong opiate like analgesic and blood mover that should be avoided in pregnancy and by nursing mothers. Avoid with other opiates and with sedatives. Avoid excessive doses.
Latin: Populus spp. (including trichocarpa, tremuloides, others)
Parts Used: Buds, leaves, bark
Taste/Energetics: Warming, aromatic
Properties: Analgesic, anti-inflammatory, diaphoretic, antimicrobial, diuretic, vulnerary
Actions: Walk down to a riverside near my house in Portland and you are likely to find a number of gentle tall grey barked trees with shimmering green leaves. In February you can hike to a stand of cottonwoods and find downed branches with loads of small resinous red and green poplar buds. These can be infused in oil to make one of the most aromatic and potent analgesic and wound healing topical oils. The aroma of the buds themselves are intoxicating and I have seen them help those who are suffering with heartache, grief and sadness to lie their spirits. Externally, the oil is supreme in helping those with arthritis, aches, neuralgia, and sprains as well as bruises and abrasions.
Internally, the buds or bark can be made into tincture or added to vinegar. The taste is quite bitter and acts to improve digestion and assimilation. Internally. tinctured cottonwood buds and bark can induce diuresis and help with urinary tyrant infections.
Like a number of herbs in the Salix (Willow) family of plants, cottonwood contains salicylic acid, a known analgesic. However, the dosage that one takes on average is fairly small and much of its analgesic effect is likely attributed to its numerous compounds.
This is one of the main herbs I suggest for self-massage to help ground and relax someone who feels stressed and overwhelmed, or feeling the after effects of trauma and its associated sympathetic nervous system overactivity. Cottonwood soothes, warms, relaxes and helps the pain to shift, move and to pass by, kind of like the rivers cottonwoods like to hang out by.
Dosage: Add fresh cottonwood buds (picked from downed branches, not the trees themselves) to a double boiler and add enough oil to cover by an inch. Gently heat the oil and allow the buds to infuse the oil over a period of 48-72 hours. Strain with cheese cloth. Use topically liberally as needed. As tincture 10-30 drops to 2 x/day.
Contraindications: Avoid internally during pregnancy.
Latin: Viburnum opulus
Family: Caprifoliaceae (Adoxaceae)
Parts Used: Bark (occ. fruit and leaves)
Taste/Energetics: Bitter, cooling, pungent
Properties: Antispasmodic, anxiolytic, analgesic, hypotensive, astringent, sedative, diuretic
Actions: This is one of my go-to herbs for many different preparations. Like it sounds it is primarily useful as an anti-spasmodic so it is helpful for cramps, muscle and headache tension and pain, abdominal distress, restless legs and bronchial spasms and coughing. Beyond that it has a distinct relaxant effect that makes it useful for anxiety and sleep formulas, especially where there is noted physical cramping and tension. It has a nice hypotensive quality as well that makes it useful in formulas for hypertension. Cramp bark finds its way into my tincture formulas for sleep, pain and anxiety. A wonderful herb.
Dosage: I prefer this herb as a tincture as the taste is so bitter as to be fairly unpalatable in a decoction. It is mainly useful as a symptomatic relief herb used for short periods of time as it rather strong in effect. 2-4 ML of tincture as needed. If it is taken in tea form, its best to add other tastier herbs such as licorice and burdock to complement the bitter taste. As decoction, 2-4 tsp to 1 pint of water simmered at low heat for 40 minutes. It is also useful in syrups where its very bitter taste is somewhat masked by a sweetener.
Contraindications: Avoid with sedative psych drugs (Benzodiazapenes, Z-drugs and antipsychotics, avoid in elderly, children and infirm, avoid with blood thinners.)
Latin: Psilocybe cubensis
Parts Used: Stems and caps
Taste/Energetics: Bitter, acrid, cooling
Actions: The psilocybe genus has a number of hallucinogenic mushroom species including P. semilanaceta (Liberty cap), P. azurescens (potent NW native) and P. cyanescens. They all have the similar quality of causing strong temporal, cognitive and visual alterations and distortions that can become quite overwhelming and profound. Cubensis mushrooms are the most easily grown and a whole industry of underground “psychonauts” have taken to growing and experimenting with varieties of this mushroom. There is increasing research into the potential for cubensis helping people who experience depression, anxiety, PTSD and for end of life care for terminal patients.
At small doses, cubensis alters one’s environment enough to cause visual distortions and often induces a sort of giggly, drunk pleasurable heightened experience. When taken in large enough dose, cubensis mushrooms can profoundly alter one’s sense of self and provide deep insights into the nature and meaning of one’s life, one’s relationships to the people, animals and natural world around one. There becomes a gnostic attunement to the world around one for both good or ill depending on circumstances. A cat is more than just a cat. A plant becomes a Plant. Sounds and shapes are augmented, rounded and come imbued with meaning. On strong doses, there is a profound sense of the mystical and spiritual interconnectedness of all being. At times this utter disorientation from consensual reality can be scary and harrowing, but most often in done in good circumstances (natural environment, friendly people, no responsibilities) mushrooms can deepen one’s essential appreciation and understanding of one’s place in the world.
Traditionally, mushrooms have been used in Mayan culture for religious and recreational purposes. There has been no North American indigenous experience of mushroom use until they were reintroduced in the 1960’s via the popularization of entheogens.
On a traditional level, they have a strong effect on the heart, the liver and the kidneys. They are strongly stimulant and can cause heart disturbance, weaken our protective power and cause mental breakdowns if used disrespectfully. I would say that like many entheogens they can “swiss cheese our aura” and open us up to unseen others and “entities” that are not welcome if not used well. But used on occasion and with respect they can be profoundly useful tools for developing profound insights and deepening our soul.
Dosage: A small dose of a gram will make one giggly and gently euphoric. Two grams is a standard dose for a fairly strong “trip” of 6 hours or so. A full 1/8th of an ounce- or about 3.5 grams, would induce a very strong and overpowering experience. And for some crazy folk, there is a desire to take 5 grams (Thank you Terrence McKenna) or even a full 1/4 ounce or 7 grams of dried mushrooms. Where these people go on those dosages I would not know or understand. Beware. How to take? Chew em up if you can handle the strongly bitter sticks in your teeth quality of them. Also- in tea, chocolates, fudge, etc.
Contraindications: Jeez. Yeah. Lots of people shouldn’t take mushrooms if they are prone to psychosis, panic states, feel feeble and confused, are ill and weak. Mushrooms should be treated with a great deal of respect because they can cause destabilization, panic and confusion if not used carefully or are used excessively.
Latin: Cumin cyminum
Parts Used: Dried seed
Properties: Carminative, anxiolytic, antispasmodic, stimulant
Actions: This is an herb almost entirely used fo its good effect on digestion, helping us to absorb and assimilate nutrients, reduce flatulence, stomach cramping and nausea. Cumin is highly nutritious, a great source of iron and manganese as well as numerous vitamins. In terms of mental health, I think of cumin as an herb that can be advised for people who feel depressed due to sluggish digestion, feeling bloated and stuck. Cumin gently moves and soothes the energy in the body.
Dosage: Best to use whole seeds and grind them with a mortar and pestle if possible so as to retain the flavor and nutritional value of this herb and then add to meals.
Latin: Turnera diffusa
Parts Used: leaves
Taste/Energetics: Bitter, sweet, warming, drying
Properties: Diuretic, nervous system and reproductive tonic, stimulant, antimicrobial, aphrodisiac, anxiolytic, stimulant, laxative, astringent, expectorant
Actions: Native to Mexico, Central America, Texas and parts of Brazil, damiana has had a long history of use by indigenous Mayans, Aztecs and Guarana peoples and has long been revered for its libido enhancing properties. Because of this history Damiana tends to be thought of as the “sex herb”, which is a pretty limited way of looking at it. Damiana both relaxes and stimulates the nervous system, bringing a calm but elevated mood. It improves circulation and digestion, strengthens menstrual flow (for delayed and painful mensutruation) and has antimicrobial properties that are helpful when fighting a bladder or bronchial infection. It is especially useful for that wet, irritated spasmodic cough with lingering infection.
Though primarily thought of as an herb for men, it has a tonic effect on both men and women’s sexuality, improving libido, impotence and premature ejaculation. In terms of mental health, it has a marked stimulating and anti-depressant quality that makes it really useful for those who feel lethargic, stuck, depressed, cool and heavy. It helps gently warm and stimulate the system. It can be helpful for the timid, shy type who has some anxiety around sexual performance.
Dosage: 1-2 tsp infused in hot water for 10 minutes. As tincture take 1-2 ml – to 2 x/day.
Contraindications: Avoid large doses of herb as there have been some cases of convulsions with this herb. Avoid taking for greater than a week due to concerns of liver damage.
Latin: Taraxacum officialis
Parts Used: Whole herb
Taste/Energetics: Cooling, drying. The root is sweet and bitter.
Properties: Alterative, cholagogue, carminative, mild laxative, diuretic, tonic
Actions: Dandelion root is simply one of the best herbs available to us because it is a weed that grows easily and can be harvested in abundance and because it has so many health giving properties. Dandelion primarily functions as an old-school “alterative”, a term for or an herb that improves metabolism, elimination of waste and gently restores health. With its bitter and sweet taste, dandelion root promotes bile production and better hepatic function which in turn reduces skin ailments such as eczema and psoriasis. I once used an herbal formula of yellow dock, oregon grape and dandelion for a large patch of psoriasis that I had developed on my neck and it went away after 3 weeks of drinking a decoction of those herbs.
Dandelion also is a mild diuretic and has been known as pis en lit in France (“Piss in Bed”). The diuretic effect makes it helpful for kidney conditions and the combined liver and kidney clearing function of this herb make it helpful for those who feel congested, constipated, stuck, heavy and damp. In Chinese medicine this is an herb that would be seen as clearing stuck heat and dampness stuck in the system. Dandelion is also very nutritious with loads of potassium, phosphorus and iron as well as high amounts of vitamin A.
In terms of mental health I see it as helpful for those who feel overburdened and toxified by too much sugar, alcohol and heavy and processed food as well as too much stress. There is a feeling that the filter organs aren’t functioning too well and the individual starts to feel weighed down, perhaps with arthritic pain, bloating and poor skin conditions. There is often a feeling of associated frustration (biliousness), and stagnant depression with these health conditions that dandelion addressees as well. Its detoxifying and tonic effects helps cool and reduce inflammation.
That means it is quite useful for helping overheated “go-getters” who can’t slow down and are prone to anxiety, anger and inflammatory conditions (pitta type in Ayurveda). It is deeply nutritive and therefore helpful for the burnt out exhausted depressed type as well.
Dosage: Dandelion leaves can be gathered in the Spring and added to salads for their nutritional virtue as well as their mild diuretic effects. Roots are traditionally gathered in the Fall or early spring. As a decoction, take 1 -2 tbsp of herb and add to pint of water simmered for 40 minutes. Doses of 15-30 grams (up to a quarter cup of root) decocted in a quart of water is my favorite way to suggest working with this plant as you really get the nutritional tonic effect this way. Also as a tincture 2-4 ml up to 3 x/day. Delicious in wines, syrups, oxymels, etc.
Latin: Harpagophytum procumbens
Parts Used: Roots/tubers
Taste/Energetics: Bitter, cooling
Properties: anti-inflammatory, analgesic,
Actions: A bitter herb that is primarily used of pain relief. Devil’s claw has several constituents such as harpagosides that are anti-inflammatory and therefore helpful for soothing arthritic, joint, back, neuralgic and other types of pain. Coming from Southern African plains, Devil’s claw has been used for conditions such as digestive problems and bladder infections but is most commonly used for its pain relieving qualities. I almost always use it in pain formulas and combine it with other herbs such as jamaican dogwood for good effect. This herb is super duper bitter. Just try drinking a cup of devil’s claw tea. The bitter quality gives clues to its ability to cool, soothe inflammation and move stuck painful conditions such as arthritic and indigestion pain.
In terms if mental health, this is great for folks who are depressed, frustrated and sad due to ongoing pain, often due to rheumatism and arthritis. It is not an herb to use for prolonged periods of time but as needed for flare ups, generally in a formula to modify its strong effect.
Dosage: Decoct 2-4 tsp in pint of water for 40 mins. Take 1-2 ml tincture to 3 x/day.
Contraindications: Avoid taking with strong sedatives and analgesics. Avoid in pregnancy.
Latin: Oplopanax horridus
Parts Used: Inner root and rhizome bark, at times whole stem
Taste/Energetics: Bitter, spicy, sweet, warming
Properties: Tonic, adaptogenic, expectorant, analgesic, alterative, hypoglycemic, purgative (in large doses), antimicrobial, vulnerary, anti-inflammatory
Actions: Native to the coastal region of the West coast from Northern California to Alaska, Devil’s club has long been considered a sacred and powerful herb to most all of the indigenous nations living there. For magical purposes it has been used for supernatural protection, for spiritual healing, for ceremony and dancing. It has also been seen as somewhat of a panacea. As a member of the ginseng family (Araliaceae) it is a cousin to Ginseng and Eleutherococcus, as well as the Northwest Aralia Genus. Though it does not have the same adaptogenic ginsenosides found in Ginseng, it has long been noted to have a tonic effect on the system and seems to strengthen and give vitality to the user with continued effect. It has often been used to soothe bronchial complaints such as bronchitis and tuberculosis and in Chinese medicine would be seen as a “wei qi tonic”. Wei qi refers to the protective energy that helps repel pathogenic invasions, solds, flu, etc. The herbalist Sean Croke tells about how he was able to cure his asthma with Devil’s Club.
The inner bark of Devil’s club has a golden yellow color and is also quite helpful as an antiiflammatory for the gut, helping to soothe conditions such as IBS, chron’s disease and ulcers. Finally it has long been used by native peoples for its good effect on diabetes, helping to control blood sugar levels. This is an herb that grows tall up to 15 feet with massive spiky thorns throughout. It looks tough, strong and not a plant to mess with. In fact, there are a number of stories about people inadvertently grabbing Devil’s Club and then getting its thorns lodged in the skin until they become infected. This would be called “joining the Club” ha ha.
On a deeper level, this is an herb that should be treated with quite a bit of respect. This is not an herb we should easily commodify and buy and sell on a large level due to it being somewhat uncommon in the lower 48 and because it has been treated as sacred by indigenous peoples.
I find that I mainly work with this plant at an energetic level. That often means just taking a few drops of the tincture to get in touch with the plant. Devils’ Club often works at the level of helping us work through our deepest wounds and fears to help us find our true authentic self and nature, to become strong and clear in who we are and to stand tall in that confidence. Sometimes that means that Devil’s Club pushes us to overcomes some poor habits, some ways in which we hide.
Dosage: This is an herb that usually comes in strips so its hard to measure my teaspoons but in general I would suggest 2-4 tsp (4-8 grams) of herb decocted in a pint of hot water for 40 mins. Tincture is often the best choice- 1-2 ml to 3 x/day.
Latin: Angelica sinensis
Parts Used: Root
Taste/Energetics: Sweet, bitter, spicy, warming
Properties: Blood tonic, emmenagogue, analgesic, mild laxative
Actions: Dong quai is a premier Chines tonic herb that is primarily offered to women as a “blood tonic”, useful for women who appear pale, deficient with scanty painful menstruation. Because it is also gently stimulating it is helpful for promoting menstruation, improving digestion and circulation. Like many “blood building” herbs, it is filled with minerals and vitamins. Because of its gently stimulating, blood building and circulatory qualities it is useful for those who feel stuck, depleted, tense and wiry. Not only does it build blood but it circulates it more freely and helps bring nutrients throughout the body. Its in one of the main Chinese formulas (Free and Easy Wanderer) for people who feel depressed, anxious, stuck and frustrated.
Dose: Because it is such a nutrient rich herb I tend to think this herb is best taken in whole form in larger doses than found in capsules. Traditionally a capsule might only hold 500 mg (1/2 a gram) of material while a good proper dose would be 5-10 grams a day (1-2 tablespoons) in a decoction using a pint of water. For its circulating and moving qualities the tincture can be taken in 1-2 ml doses twice a day.
Contraindications: Not to be used in pregnancy, those with uterine fibroids, cancer, those using blood thinners
Latin: Psudotsuga menziesii
Parts Used: Leaves/needles
Taste/Energetics: Pungent, spicy, gently warming
Properties: Expectorant, antimicrobial, analgesic, immunostimulant, anxiolytic
Actions: Walk through any forest in the Northwest and you will see the majestic Douglas Fir. Because of its usefulness as a timber tree, much of the Old Growth was logged in the last 150 years. This is a conifer that grows easily and strongly in full sunshine as well as shade. It has a thick bark that makes it fire resistant. It is the tough perimeter tree that eventually makes way for more shade loving hemlock and cedar trees. My friend Tracy Sprauer calls the tree “Sun Pig” because of its tolerance and love of being in the open sun.
Douglas Fir has a long history is use by Coastal Native first peoples. It has been used for coughs, colds, rheumatic pain, for skin irritations and as a kidney and bladder tonic. Doug Fir has a complex array of volatile oils that give it its distinct uplifting almost citrusy smell. It can be used for steam inhalation for bronchial infections with a nagging cough. It has immune stimulating properties and its resin can be used straight on cuts, critter bites and bruises. Resin itself can be made into incense as well as added to salves and oils for skin healing properties. The smell itself its quite uplifting and relaxing and the essential oil can be used as aromatherapy in salves, lotions and bath salts for good effect.
Perhaps the best effect for mental health is simply walking through a forest filled with Douglas Fir. Since my father moved down here to Portland we have spent many days hiking through nearby parks filled with Fir. Through our walks we have grown closer and share more deeply with each other. In Japan the term for the anxiety and depression reducing practice of spending time in the forest is known as Shinrin Yoku- Meaning “Forest Bathing.” Plant based therapies come in many forms and spending time with friends and family amongst Douglas Fir’s hanging bows and heady aroma is one of the best.
Dosage: 2-3 tsp decocted in pint of water for 40 minutes. Also standard usage as essential oil/hydrosol.
Dream Herb (Calea)
Latin: Calea zacatechii, ternifolia
Parts Used: Leaf
Taste/Energetics: Bitter as hell, cooling
Properties: Dream enhancer, anxiolytic, sedative, astringent, appetite stimulant, vulnerary, oneirogenic,
Actions: This is a very interesting plant growing primarily in Mexico and Central America that traditionally has been used by indigenous peoples for its dream enhancing and divinatory powers. In the Oaxaca area of Mexico, the Chontal people have used it for dreamwork as well as to receive headaches, fevers and to treat diarrhea.
Researchers have noted that those who consume Calea experience a greater amount of time sleeping in theta states and report a much higher level of dream activity. Many note its ability to induce a state of lucid dreaming, where images, colors and experiences in dreaming are much more vivid and easier to remember upon waking. From personal experience, I note that the plant is deeply relaxing, very slightly euphoric and somewhat sedative. Dreams were far more present and alive and felt more potent with meaning. Outside of dream work I note this plant is quite relaxing and sedative.
Dosage: Traditionally this herb is taken by drinking the tea of the leaf and smoking it. 1-5 gram infused in hot water for 15 minutes. The taste of the tea is extraordinarily bitter and hard to take. For some it can induce nausea and even emesis. Alcoholic tincture extracts are available but I am not familiar with them and wary of anything that is potentized to 5x or 10 x. One can smoke a few of the leaves as well with good effect but the tea seems to cause a more long lasting effect.
Contraindications: Avoid with other sedatives, avoid if one has a potential for psychosis.
Latin: Sambucus nigra
Parts Used: Berries, flowers
Taste/Energetics: Cool, drying
Properties: Diaphoretic, antimicrobial, antiviral,
Actions: Elder has long been used as an herb to fight offloads and the flu and modern research has shown it has the ability to inhibit viruses from invading healthy cells. Elder flower induces a sweat and is one of the principle herbs along with mint and yarrow to offer people at the start of sickness to help cool a fever and “release the exterior.” Elder syrup is one of the best immune enhancing elixirs one can concoct and is a wonderful winter ally for keeping people well. Elder is not generally thought of as a mental health herb but it has a nice gentle relaxing quality that is helpful for someone who is anxious, hot and wound up. It is especially helpful to think of this plant for elders, children and folks in poor health who aren’t strong as it is quite gentle in effect.
Dosage: 1-3 tsp flower infused in hot water 10 minutes. As syrup see recipe section.
Latin: Eleutheroccocus senticosus
Parts Used: Bark
Taste/Energetics: Bitter, slightly warming
Properties: Adaptogen, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, anxiolytic, immunostimulant
Actions: Eleuthero, AKA Siberian Ginseng, is a relative of Asian and American Ginseng as well as the Northwest coastal Devil’s Club. With its nice gentle tonic and adaptogenic effect, elethero can be offered in many different formulas for helping to bolster the immune system, improve stamina, vitality and reduce . It should not be seen as a replacement for needed changes in diet in lifestyle (like getting good proper sleep and rest), but it can be a helpful herb for those who have been worn out by stress and trauma and need deep level nourishment and support. In Chinese medicine it is known as a “Qi tonic” and is best offered over a period of time as its benefits are cumulative.
This is an herb that is often offered in tincture form but I feel it is best taken in whole form and added to tea formulas. As an adaptogen it is not excessively strong like Asian ginseng and is helpful for those who feel weak, worn out with fatigue, insomnia, arthritic pain and who tend to get colds and infections easily. Commonly offered to those with CFS, fibromyalgia, exhaustion with limited heat signs.
Dose: 2-4 tsp in pint of water decocted for 40 minutes to 2 x/day; 2-5 ML up to 2 x /day
Ephedra (Ma Huang)
Latin: Ephedra sinica
Taste/Energetics: Slightly bitter, pungent, warming, drying
Properties: Diuretic, diaphoretic, expectorant, stimulant, astringent
Actions: This is an herb that that was made illegal in the States in 2004 due to the potential for overstimulation and cardiac arrest in rare cases. There are a couple native North American species known as Mormon tea (Ephedra viridis and nevadensis) that have some of the same stimulating properties though nowhere near as strong. Herbalist Michael Moore wrote about Mormon tea: “Generally, although the tea contains no ephedrine alkaloid, the potent adrenaline-mimic used for asthma, it contains discrete relatives of the drug.” The Asian Ephedra sinica contains the potent alkaloids ephedrine and pseudoephedrine that one finds in cold medicine and as precursor agents for making methamphetamine.
As a medicinal agent, it has often been used to help induce a sweat and to allay a cold and can be a good agent to stimulate the bronchial passages when there is a nasty respiratory illness with repeated coughing or to help eliminate an asthma attack. Its diuretic effect makes it useful for those with edema or difficulty with urination. Because of its potent effect and because of our irrational fear of any type of plant that has a strong effect we have banned it. (No problem with selling really potent and potentially lethal over the counter pain relievers and cold medicine though). Sadly, we were starting to put it into weight loss supplements and add it to caffeine pills for super-charged energy pills. Still good medicine if used appropriately.
Dosage: Traditionally 2-4 tsp in standard decoction, generally taken with other herbs to help soften and harmonize its influence.
Contraindications: Pregnancy. Anyone with cardiac issues, hypertension, anxiety, insomnia.
Latin: Tanacetum parthenium
Parts used: leaves and flowers
Taste/Energetics: Bitter, acrid, cooling
Properties: Carminative, emmenagogue, analgesic (often for migraines), anxiolytic, nervous system tonic, antimicrobial, diaphoretic
Actions: With anti-inflammatory and analgesic constituents, feverfew has long been known to be an herb that is helpful for those with headaches and migraines. Its analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties make it useful for other conditions such as arthritis and neuralgia. Feverfew is bitter and helps stimulate appetite and improve digestion, helps promote blood flow for women with delayed menstruation and is useful as an herb at the onset of a cold.
In terms of mental health this is useful for those who get migraines, headaches, muscle cramping, anxiety and other tense conditions often due to ongoing stress and tension in life. Feverfew gently cools and relaxes those who tend to feel tight, frustrated, anxious, bottled in and under pressure but still strong in constitution and not feeble.
Herbalist Lesley Tierra see this herb as interchangeable with Chrysanthemum in that it tends to be helpful for those with “digestive problems, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, rising in the ears, psoriasis, earaches, liver diseases, muscular tension, etc.)
Dosage: 1-3 tsp infused in cup of hot water for 10 minutes to 3 x/day. 1-2 ml tincture to 3 x/day.
Latin: Boswellia carterii
Parts Used: Resin of tree
Taste/Energetics: Bitter, Sweet, pungent, gently warming
Properties: Antimicrobial. anti-inflammatory, analgesic, vulnerary, circulatory stimulant
Actions: I really had a chance to understand this herb best when I took a workshop with noted herbal distiller Dan Riegler. In the process of distilling of frankincense resin to turn it into a hydrosol and an essential oil, Ziegler talked about his experiences travelling to Africa to procure this resin at its source. The taste of the hydrosol and the smell of that aroma was like nothing else- heady, rich, complicated, calming and enlivening. Deeply affecting, especially after seeing it be freshly made by a master.
Frankincense has a long history of usage dating back to antiquity. As the resin of a tree, it has long been converted into incense and the Bible notes it was one of the three gifts the wisemen brought Jesus at his birth. Frankincense originally was traded by North Africans over 5000 years and it has been used medicinally as an analgesic and anti-inflammatory for arthritis and general pain, for wound healing and to bolster the immune system. Its ability to stimulate circulation and as an inflammatory make it very useful for asthma, bronchitis, IBS, Chron’s and “cold, damp pain”. It has long been used as an aromatic for religious rituals such as Catholic Mass and to promote good health and fortune (Ayurveda). Today it is commonly used as an essential oil in aromatherapy for its ability to enhance prayer, meditation, to relax and calm the nervous system and to strengthen cognitive clarity and acuity. This is deep rich medicine for the soul and really helpful for those who feel dark and confused at a soul level.
Dose: 1-2 tsp in standard decoction, 1-3 ml in tincture to 2 x/day . Standard essential oil usage.
Contraindications: Avoid during pregnancy
Latin: Geranium pelargonium and other species
Parts Used: Roots
Taste/Energetics: Pungent, bitter, slightly cooling
Properties: Astringent, antiomicrobial, demulcent, diuretic, analgesic, vulnerary, antidepressant
Actions: As a whole herb taken internally, geranium is primarily useful as an astringent, helping in cases of diarrhea, excessive menstrual bleeding and hemorrhages. its anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties make it useful for headaches, migraines and arthritic pain. It has antimicrobial and immunostimulating properties that can make it useful for the onset of a cold or flu.
Geranium is also used quite a bit in aromatherapy and has a nice pleasing and uplifting quality and it helps reduce anxiety, headaches, high blood pressure and helps to relax tension in the body. Very useful for those who feel wound up, stressed and anxious.
Dose: Decoct 2-4 tsp in pint of hot water for 40 mins. 1-3 ml tincture, to 2 x/day. Often used as essential oil.
Contraindications: Standard essential oil precautions.
Latin: Zingiber officinalis
Parts Used: Root
Taste/Energetics: Heating, drying, stimulating
Properties: Carminative, anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, analgesic, diaphoretic, expectorant, antimicrobial, anti-emetic
Actions: Outside of garlic, ginger may be the most helpful and versatile herb in your kitchen cupboard. Ginger is helpful for bloating, digestive upset, cramping, as an antimicrobial and expectorant at the onset of a cold or flu, and is very helpful as a warming circulatory stimulant and analgesic that helps reduce arthritic and neuralgic pain.
For those who feel tight, cold, stagnant, heavy and listless, ginger will warm, move and release tension in your system. Ginger is commonly added to Chinese herbal formulas to help potentiate the other herbs and invigorate and circulate them in the system. Ginger has long been used in Ayurvedic medicine as well for similar reasons to stimulate gastric fire (“Agni”) to help digest food and absorb nutrients better.
Poor digestion and a feeling of being tight, stuck and stagnant in the body are commonly connected to feeling of depression, lethargy and sadness. Ginger is one of the best herbs for reducing depression by stoking our internal digestive fire, warming us up and improving circulation.
Dosage: A couple teaspoons a day in teas, meals and beverages. Tincture 1-3 ml to 5 x/day.
Contraindications: It is a heating herb and sometimes too strong and heating for someone who already runs hot and dry.
Latin: Gingko biloba
Parts Used: Leaves primarily, nuts
Taste/Energetics: Sweet, sour, bitter, neutral
Properties: Nootropic, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, circulatory stimulant, hypotensive, anxiolytic
Actions: Gingko is one of those “miracle herbs” that have become very popular as an anti-aging and memory enhancing supplement but really this ancient plant has a wide variety of uses. Gingko is not only an ancient tree species, it also tends to live for many hundreds- if not thousands- of years. Besides improving cognitive abilities such as improved memory and focus, gingko is also useful for reducing the potential for dementia and Alzheimers. It also improves blood circulation, is mildly analgesic, calming, and hypotensive. There is some evidence that it improves vision and decreases the potential of macular degeneration and optical neuropathy.
Gingko is a tree that has become popular as an ornamental and is grown commonly in cities. I think of this plant for those who feel cloudy, dull, confused, scattered and aging too quickly. It tones and sharpens people up in a gentle way and is nicely preventative of aging related health problems.
Dosage: Per Thomas Easley (see his book The Modern Herbal Dispensatory) , Gingko is not really effective unless it is concentrated. That means its best to take this in capsules containing 100-250 mg of a 50:1 standardized extract.
Contraindications: Avoid with blood thinners.
Latin: Panax quinquefolium
Parts Used: Roots
Taste/Energetics: Sweet, slightly bitter, cooling
Properties: Tonic, adaptogenic, anxiolytic, mild stimulant, anti-spasmodic, analgesic, antiviral, anti-tumoral
Actions: This is one of the premier adaptogens to take but unfortunately it has been severely over harvested and has become endangered in the wild. There are a few reputable vendors of organically grown American Ginseng and the herb should only be purchased in this way. Though most adaptogens are warming, American Ginseng is slightly cooling and therefore is best for those who are in need of deep sustenance but appear exhausted and depressed as well overheated, ruddy and toxic from stress, drugs, alcohol and bad food.
American Ginseng will slowly restore good health, immune strength, a calm nervous system and a stronger libido.
In Chinese medicine American Ginseng is used primarily for lung and kidney yin deficiency. Lung yin deficiency appears in people who develop dry coughs, low grade fevers at night and a hoarse voice. Kidney yin deficiency is quite common in the modern world with symptoms of dry hair, exhaustion, lack of libido, lower back pain, insomnia, brittle joints and a sense of frailty and diminished reserves.
Essentially American Ginseng is helpful for those who are burning up their “essence” and appear old too quickly. The kidneys are associated with the emotion of fear in Chinese medicine but that is not quite the right word here. American Ginseng is more helpful for those who feel unsure, who are lacking in a sense of willpower, surety, and tend towards chasing quick pleasures to sustain them, which end up making themselves feel worse and used up.
Generally I will decoct a nice root (about 5-10 grams) for 20 minutes in a pint of water until it is soft and then try and cut it into slices so more surface area is available. Then I will place the slices back in the water and decoct it for another 20-30 minutes. As powder 1-2 grams per day. As tincture 1-3 ml to 2x/day.
Contraindications: Do not use with blood thinners
Latin: Panax ginseng
Parts Used: roots
Taste/Energetics: Warming, sweet, slightly bitter
Properties: Tonic, adaptogen, stimulant, libido enhancement
Actions: This root has long been considered the supreme Chinese tonic for restoring vitality and improving libido, mostly for men. Panax is associated with the word panacea, and this herb has long been considered helpful for restoring vitality and strength and in turn relieving many common health complaints. Ginseng is deeply restorative and nourishing for those who feel depleted, depressed, washed out, tired and overwhelmed by stress.
This type of ginseng is fairly stimulating and I avoid encouraging it for people who have heat signs, It is better for the pale, deficient type who is deeply fatigued, anxious, lacks libido, runs cold and is in need of some deep restoration. Though traditionally offered to men, I believe it can be a good adjunctive herb for women with these symptoms as well.
Dosage: Like American Ginseng, you often buy ginseng in large root form. Generally I will decoct a nice root (about 5-10 grams) for 20 minutes in a pint of water until it is soft and then try and cut it into slices so more surface area is available. Then I will place the slices back in the water and decoct it for another 20-30 minutes. As powder 1-2 grams per day. As tincture 1-3 ml to 2x/day.
Contraindications: This is an herb to be avoided for those who appear hot with high blood pressure, inflammation, have a fever or during pregnancy
Goji berry (Wolfberry, Gou Qi Zi)
Latin: Lycium barbarum
Parts Used: Fruit
Taste/Energetics: Sweet, bitter, cooling
Properties: Tonic, adaptogenic, hypertensive, circulatory stimulant
Actions: Goji berries are another Chinese herb that has become more popular as a “superfood” recently in the West but has a long history of use in Asia. Traditionally seen as a tonic herb that improves liver function, the berries are also useful for improving vision, sleep, to moisten a dry system and to increase stamina and energy. Goji berries are cooling in nature and helpful for those who are hot and dry with associated dry and bloodshot eyes, dry cough, and high blood pressure. Goji berries are nutrient dense and are just a great general tonic herb to throw in your bone broth or to snack on.
There are not a lot of moistening cooling tonic herbs so this one is great for those folks who are hot, dry, energized but exhausted (wired and tired) who need to slow down, take a few items off their agenda list and get a massage, dip their toes in a pool and relax a bit. It cools, moistens, nourishes and provides deep sustenance in a gentle way.
Dosage: 2-10 grams daily in decoction or just snack on those yummy red fruit!
Contraindications: Potentially blood thinners, blood pressure meds, diabetes meds but there is no evidence of poor interactions. Pregnancy.
Latin: Centella asiática
Parts Used: Leaves
Taste/Energetics: Bitter, cooling
Properties: Tonic, adaptogenic, vulnerary, analgesic, anxiolytic, circulatory stimulant, diaphoretic, diuretic
Actions: Long revered in both Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, Gotu Kola has been used for a variety of health complaints. Gotu Kola lessens anxiety, reduces high blood pressure, improves cognition, memory, heals stomach ulcers and gastric pain, strengthens blood vessel walls and capillaries, strengthens the nervous system and improves libido. Got Kola can be used externally as a salve for wound healing as well.
This is really a panacea and has been revered as such and used in many medicinal and culinary preparations because of its “cure-all” abilities. In Ayurveda, it is deemed a “Rasayana”, a supreme tonic capable of restoring the nervous system, improve blood flow, reduce anxiety and build resiliency in those who take it frequently. It is seen as an herb capable of slowing the aging process down, especially in those who appear to be aging too quickly. In terms of mental health, Gotu Kola is really useful for those who need deep restoration and strengthening, especially if they are under great stress or have experienced shock and trauma. Stress and trauma may lead to general debility, cognitive decline and confusion, pain and arthritis and Gotu Kola is a premier herb to help in the healing process here. It has also long been used by mystics, sages and yogis to enhance their meditations and spiritual practices.
Dosage: This is an herb that is often taken in meals (see recipe section) and is a wonderful addition to one’s diet if one can find it fresh. Otherwise I recommend taking it in whole form as tea 1-2 tsp to cup of hot water infused for 10 minutes.
Contraindications: High doses sometimes correlated with burning sensation on skin or headaches.
Graviola (Jamaican Sour Sop tree)
Latin: Annona muricata
Parts Used: Leaves, fruit, seeds, bark, roots
Properties: Hypotensive, anxiolytic, anti-spasmodic, galactagogue, astringent, analgesic, tonic, emmenagogue
Actions: This is a plant that grows primarily in the Amazon jungle and the Caribbean islands. The fruit and leaves of this plant are used traditionally for their anxiolytic, sedative and analgesic properties. Graviola can be used in cases of arthritic and joint pain, neuralgia, to reduce hypertension, for spasming coughs, asthma, digestive and menstrual cramping, to improve breast milk and to encourage menstrual flow.
Dosage: This fruit has commonly been added to desserts in places such as Columbia, Mexico, South-East Asia and Ethiopia. It is also made into sweet beverages, ice creams and smoothies. In the Phillipines, the dessert is known as guyabano.
As herbal medicine, 2-6 grams of fruit extract/day.
Contraindications: Avoid in pregnancy
Latin: Ilex guayusa
Parts Used: Leaves
Actions: Guayusa is a caffeine, L-theanine and theobromine rich herb and relative of Mate and the Holly tree. Common to the Amazon, indigenous natives often will drink the tea for its stimulating properties to stay awake and also for sharpening their minds and eyesight during hunts. Guayusa contains more caffeine per gram than Mate and is high in nutrients and antioxidants. Because it contains a large amount of the relaxing and pleasure inducing L-theanine, it may be more relaxant than just strictly caffeine rich beverages.
Though Mate is more commonly consumed, Guayusa is becoming increasingly popular in the States. 98% of Guayusa is found in Ecuador and it is key to purchase from reputable, ethical and sustainable sources.
Dosage: Generally taken as tea- 1-2 tsp to cup of hot water infused for 10 minutes.
Contraindications: For those who need to avoid stimulants.
Latin: Tinospora cordifolia
Parts Used: All parts
Taste/Energetics: Bitter, pungent, cooling
Properties: Immunomodulator, anti-diabetic, analgesic, anti-viral, anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, tonic, astringent, carminative, diaphoretic, aphrodisiac.
Actions: Meaning imprerishable, Amrit has been known as the “Queen of the Rasayanas” in Ayurvedic medicine A rasayana is a health and longevity tonic. Amrit has been used to reduce inflammation the form of rheumatic disorders, arthritis, gout, skin conditions such as eczema, to improve immune function and to ward off colds and flu. Amrit has also been noted to treat digestive ailments such as stomach ulcers, improve libido and as a general tonic to improve stamina and vitality.
In terms of mental health, this is an herb for those who are hot, inflamed, feel heavy and lethargic, weak with stress and diet related inflammation such as ulcers, gastritis and arthritis. Depression may be mixed with frustration, anger and a feeling of toxicity.
Dosage: 1-2 teaspoon infused for 10 minutes to twice a day.
Contraindications: Those taking diabetic meds, immunomodulator drugs, pregnancy
Latin: Crataegus spp.
Parts Used: Berry, flower, leaf
Taste/Energetics: Warming, sour and slightly sweet
Properties: Cardiotonic, astringent, nutritive (berries), antioxidant, anxiolytic
Actions: This is an herb that is often used for strengthening and regulating the heart. Emotionally, it also has an affinity for helping people who have experienced shock and trauma, leading to anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, often with high blood pressure. I think of it as a protective plant, especially for those who appear vulnerable and at times frightened. In Chinese medicine, hawthorn berries are used as a digestive tonic, helping to strengthen appetite, digestion and assimilation.
Dosage: The leaves and flowers lose their medicinal strength after a few months but berries can last up to a year in dry form. The berries contain more nutrients and flavonoids. Both commonly taken as tea 1-3 tsp infusion in cup of hot water, or in tincture form 2-3 ml twice a day.
Contraindications: Gentle but consider usage when taking other hypotensives.
Latin: Helichrysum (Gnaphalium) angustifolium , italicum
Parts Used: Flower heads
Taste/Energetics: Pungent, bitter, aromatic, warming, drying
Properties: Anti-spasmodic, diuretic, anxiolytic, carminative, antiinflammatory, antiviral, antimicrobial, circulatory stimulant, anticoagulant.
Actions: This is an herb that is not commonly used in the West unless as an aromatherapeutic agent (essential oil/hydrosol). Traditionally it has been used to promote circulation and relieve stagnation and pain associated with arthtrtitis and rheumatism. It has a nice calming and anti-inflammatory effect on digestive upset, spasms and ulcers. Helichrysum can be a helpful aid against colds and flu and improve immune response to bronchitis and lung ailments. Its antispasmodic effect is useful for hacking coughs and asthma. Externally it can be applied as a poultice to heal wounds, eczema, scars and abcesses.
In terms of aromatherapy, it is best offered for those who have experienced emotional trauma and in a state of heightened anxiety, fear and grief.
is primarily used today in aromatherapy as an essential oil and hydrosol. Known traditionally as “immortelle” and “Everlasting” it carries a solar richness that is useful for those who feel hidden, dark and fearful. It brings light and warmth. There is also something that connects it to other Gnaphaliums such as Pearly Everlasting. These plants seem to have an affinity with matters of death and dying, with ancestral issues such as repeated family themes of abuse and trauma that carry down through the generations.
Dosage: Standard essential oil usage. In teas, 1-2 tsp to cup of hot water for 10 mins. in standard infusion. 1-2 ml to 3 x/day.
Contraindications: For those on blood thinners, or prone to internal hemorrhages.
Latin: Hibiscus sabdariffa
Parts Used: Dried calyx and bract
Taste/Energetics: Sour, slightly sweet, cooling
Properties: Diaphoretic, improve circulation, anti-hypertensive, anti-inflammatory hepatoprotective, antidepressant, anxiolytic, emmenagogue, astringent
Actions: This is one of those herbs that most everyone loves because it tastes so great. Often made in tea form, hibiscus helps regulate and lower high blood pressure, regulate blood sugar levels, reduces stomach and menstrual cramping, and helps reduce fevers and headaches.
In terms of mental health, this is an herb that I would give on a hot summer day to some overheated frazzled guests. Hibiscus cools and soothes while uplifting the mood and bringing subtle delight.
Dosage: Best in tea as 1-2 tsp to cup of hot water infused for 10 mins. to 3 x/day.
He Shou Wu (Fo-Ti)
Latin: Fallopia multiflora
Parts Used: Prepared roots
Taste/Energetics: Slightly bitter, sweet, warming
Properties: Libido enhancement, anxiolytic, nervous system and general health tonic
Actions: This is one of the most important energy tonics in Chinese medicine. One of the classic stories told about this herb is that a man born with a weak constitution who was aging quickly dug up this root and started taking it regularly In time his white hair turned black again, he became very virile and his appearance became youthful. He went on to father a number of children. Whether this story is apocryphal or not, this herb has long been noted to improve energy levels, stamina and libido. In Chinese medicine HeoShou Wu is used to tonify qi and jing. While qi refers to general energy, jing is the basic essence that we are born with that provides us with our underlying strength, vitality and resilieency. It can be burned up by excessive sex, partying, stimulants and too little sleep. He Shou Wu has the ability to restore and tonify this essential energy. This root has a moistening and nourishing quality that is helpful for folks who are weak, anemic, pale, deficient and dry in constitution. Ho Shou Wu is very starchy and rich in tannins and is generally processed by steaming the roots in black soybean juice and then dried. This processing helps the herb to become more useful as a blood and yin tonic to nourish the muscles, joints, hair and skin and help with conditions such as dizziness, weakeness, tinnitus, numbness and anemia.
In terms of mental health, this is a deeply tonic herb that is often best to take in whole form and mixed with other herbs in a formula. It is supremely nourishing and strengthening for folks who are cold, dry and deficient who have burned out their reserves either through lifestyle choices or because their life has been traumatic and stressful. Great for those who are sensitive and easily triggered into shock and dissociation.
Dosage: 9-15 grams in standard decoction. As powder 1-4 grams daily.
Contraindications: Can cause loose stools and stomach upset in some.
Holy Basil (Tulsi)
Latin: Krishna type: Ocimum tenuiflorum. Rama type: Ocimum sanctum. Vana: Ocimum gratissimum
Parts Used: Leaves and flowers
Properties: Antimicrobial, expectorant, anxiolytic, adaptogenic, restorative, anti-inflammatory, carminative, antispasmodic, analgesic, circulatory stimulant
Actions: Holy Basil is revered as one of the most important herbs in Ayurveda. It has alternately been named things like “The Queen of Herbs” or “The Elixir of Life.” Holy Basil is considered a “rasayana”, a supreme tonic used to treat colds, flu, ulcers, poor digestion, inflammation, diabetes chronic fatigue, depression, arthritis, respiratory distress, bronchitis, asthma, infections, eczema and psoriasis amongst other conditions. It is rightfully seen as a panacea and beyond that it is a delightful tea to drink.
There are actually several distinct types of holy basil. The Krishna species has purple tinged leaves and is seen as the most potent and strengthening of the three. The Rama species is more short and heavily flowered and is often grown here in the States. The Vana species is known as the “Forest type”, is highly aromatic, grows taller than the others and has similar stress busting, immune enhancing properties.
In terms of mental health, holy basil is one of the premier herbs to offer to those who are deeply stressed, overwhelmed, anxious and often shut down, tired and anxious. Holy Basil helps lift the spirits, calms anxiety, improves resiliency, vitality and raises energy levels. The taste and smell of it is is therapeutic as well and I highly recommend taking this herb as a warm tea.
Dosage: Holy Basil is best drunk as a tea or added to meals and dishes such as in Thai and Indian cooking. 1-2 tsp to cup of hot water infused for 10 mins.
Contraindications: Potentially not to be taken with anticoagulants
Latin: Lonicera sp.
Parts Used: Flower buds
Taste/Energetics: Bitter, Sweet, cooling, dispersive
Properties: Diaphoretic, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antimicrobial, anti-tumoral, analgesic, expectorant, antispasmodic, anxiolytic, antitumoral
Actions: This beautiful flower grows wildly nearby to me and I always stop to admire its gorgeous twining vines and elongated colorful flowers. Honeysuckle flowers have a long history of fighting off colds and the flu as well as any inflamed infection. Its anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic nature makes it helpful for ulcers and cramping in the stomach, bronchial and urinary tract infections and hot inflamed arthritic tendencies. Its anti-inflammatory qualities can be put to good use externally as well for eczema and weeping psoriasis that looks inflamed.
For mental health concerns, this is a wonderful herb for hot, overstressed, excitable, anxious, frenzied and occasionally angry/ragey folks- also known as Pitta/Choleric types. Honeysuckle cools and soothes, quells anxiety and softens hard people who tend to yell and fuss a lot.
Dosage: This is an herb I like as a tea, or as a flower essence or “drop dose” for overheated, overly intense and often “angry at a drop of a hat” folks. This is a relative of Elder (Sambucus racemosa) and has similar cooling, soothing, relaxing properties. 1-2 tsp infused in cup of hot water for 5 mins.
Latin: Humulus lupus
Parts Used: Strobiles
Taste/Energetics: Cooling, drying, bitter
Properties: Sedative, carminative, antispasmodic, analgesic
Actions: Hops is a wonderful herb for those who tend to easily become restless, hot, uptight with muscle spasms, have insomnia, occasional flashes of anger and and have pain due to rigidity. Hops is one of the most commonly used herbs as it is one of the main ingredients in beer. The bitter flavor is helpful for digestive problems related to anxiety. It is a stronger relaxant herb that should be primarily used at night time.
As a key ingredient in beer, hops is actually one of our most consumed “herbs for mental health.”
Dosage: Often in tincture 2-4 ML generally at night for anxiety, insomnia. 1-2 tsp infused in cup of hot water for 10 mins.
Contraindications: Avoid taking with sedative medications.
Horny Goat Weed (Yin Yang Huo)
Latin: Epimedium sp.
Parts Used: Leaves
Taste/Energetics: Sweet, acrid, warm
Properties: Hypotensive, aphrodisiac, anxiolytic, circulatory stimulant
Actions: This is a classic Chinese herb to improve sexual performance in both men and women, improve erectile function, increase energy levels and help reduce pre-menstrual tension. The main constituent that scientists determine give it its libido enhancing properties is icariin. Icariin is a smooth muscle relaxer and one theory is that Horny Goat Weed helps relax the system into a parasympathetic “Rest, Digest and Restore” state. In this state it is easier to feel open, connected and receptive in sexual encounters. This herb also helps dilates blood vessels to allow for a more free flow of circulation which also helps improve sexual function.
Dosage: Like most libido enhancers, its essential to get to the root cause (exhaustion, depletion, trauma, diet, stress) than to just jack your body up with a performance enhancer. That being said, Horny Goat Weed plays an important role in traditional medicine for improving libido when other issues are also examined. 3-9 grams standard decoction generally as part of a larger modulating formula, 2-4 grams in capsules.
Contraindications: Side effects can include feeling light headed, dehydrated and even can rarely induce vomiting in high doses.
Latin: Hyssopus officinalis
Parts Used: Aerial
Properties: Astringent, carminative, diuretic, emmenagogue, expectorant. anxiolytic, antispasmodic, vulnerary, circulatory stimulant
Actions: Hyssop’s species name is officinalis, a term that means that it has long been part of medical practice and indeed its origins as a healing herb go back to the time of the early Greeks. Hyssop is often used as a “lung herb” for infections and bronchitis. Its antispasmodic and antimicrobial properties make it helpful for soothing asthma, hacking coughs and healing respiratory distress conditions. Its relaxant quality make it useful for cramping and griping in the gut. Hyssop can also be offered to ward off colds and the flu due to its sweat inducing “diaphoretic” properties. Hyssop moves and stimulates circulation, helping to strengthen digestive, nervous system, endocrine and excretory systems to function better.
In terms of mental health, it used to be quite common to offer hyssop in cases of “hysteria”, or what we would call severe cases of anxiety and panic. This is an herb I would use in the short term for a day or two to help with acute anxiety, tight wound up anxiety, a feeling of wanting to scream and feeling tight and blocked up.
Dosage: As tea its pretty nasty 1-2 tsp standard infusion in cup of hot water for 10 minutes. In tincture, either as energetic dose of a few drops, or for more gross effect 1-2 ML as needed until symptoms reside. This is a fairly common essential oil to use these days with good effect as an aromatic agent. As an essential oil, standard use.
Contraindications: As an emmenagogue, avoid in pregnancy
Latin: Tabernathe iboga
Parts Used: Bark of the root
Taste/Energetics: Bitter, cold
Properties: Entheogen, Stimulant, emetic, dissociative, anti-addictive
Actions: Iboga is a tree that grows throughout West-Cetral Africa and is commonly used ceremonially and for healing rituals by Bwiti and other indigenous peoples for its potent stimulating and (in larger doses) entheogenic properties. The main constituent that causes its overwhelming effect is the alkaloid ibogaine and both it and the whole plant are illegal in the U.S. It has gained recognition not only as a potent entheogen but as a plant that can help those dealing with addiction issues and especially for opiate addiction.
At higher (flood) doses, there is a sense of communion with the spirit of this plant. The Bwiti people describe taking Iboga as inducing potent visual trances, communication with ancestors and a spiritual catharsis. In essence the plant can cause a deep inventory of one’s life and help heal deep seated psychological and spiritual issues. At higher doses, the plant is deeply incapacitating and causes derealization and fragmentation from ordinary reality. For many Iboga has been instrumental in helping them change their lives, unhealthy patterns and addictions and to live in a better way. There is some evidence that iboga can reduce or even terminate withdrawals and cravings for opiates and other substances. However, the plant also is strongly stimulating to the heart and is dangerous to anyone with cardiac issues. It can induce vomiting, muscle tension and severe confusion in some as well.
Dosage: The average dose of the ibogaine alkaloid by itself is in the 200-2000mg range. The alkaloid is found in concentrations of around 6 % in the root bark. The average dose of the whole bark and root is between 3 and 30 grams. The lower doses are more stimulating and the larger doses (flood doses) are psychedelic and can be deeply profound and overwhelming. There are reports of deaths on this plant from cardiac arrest at higher doses and I have personally met a woman who said her son died from an overdose of ibogaine. Because of this I would encourage utmost caution when working with this plant. There are a number of clinics that specialize in working with addiction issues through the use of iboga/ibogaine but many are run by unscrupulous folks so please beware.
Like many entheogenic plants found in places like South America and Africa, there is quite a bit of exploitation of the plant and the indigenous peoples who have worked with it for ages. Already there is some evidence that overharvesting of this slow growing tree is leading to rapid diminishing reserves. We need to not add to this excessive exploitation of this culturally valuable plant.
Contraindications: Extremely potent psychedelics just ain’t for everyone folks. Anyone with cardiac issues should avoid it. Avoid if pregnant. Best done in small “test” amount to see how one reacts. Don’t do it alone and best done with a professional and knowledgable “sitter” who can help. Be very careful and do lots and lots of research.
Latin: Alchornea floribunda
Parts Used: Bark and leaves
Properties: Analgesic, anti-inflammatory, mild aphrodisiac, antifungal, antimicrobial
Actions: Coming to us from Peru and parts of South America, the leaves and bark of this small tree have long been used by indigenous peoples for its pain relieving qualities. Iporuru also is at times used as an ingredient to make the classic hallucinogen ayahuasca (along with banisteriopsis caapi) though it is not hallucinogenic by itself. The pain relieving quality is attributed to particular anti-inflammatory alkaloids (such as alchorneine). Ailments such as arthritis, rheumatism, gout and neuralgia are commonly treated with this traditional remedy. There is some evidence that it acts to inhibit prostaglandin synthesis that leads to muscular and joint inflammation. The leaf is also used to treat impotency and as a general aphrodisiac.
Dosage: 2-4 tsp in pint of hot water decocted for 40 minutes- to 2 x/day. As tincture 1-3 ml to 3 x/day.
Contraindications: Avoid while pregnant, nursing, with other pharma pain and sedative meds. Excessive dosing of this plant can lead to severe discomfort and gastric distress. This is not a plant that has been studied greatly and should be treated with caution.
Latin: Jasminum sp.
Parts Used: Flowers (occ. leaves)
Taste/Energetics: Sweet, cooling
Properties: Anti-depressant, anxiolytic, aphrodisiac, analgesic, energizing
Actions: This is a lovely plant that is generally used in modern times as aromatherapy for its delightful uplifting, antidepressant and fragrant scent. Its a wonderful plant to grow in your yard for its pretty white flowers and to add that heady aroma to your garden. As an internal medicine, there are a number of different species that have had specific applications. Some varietals have been used for coughs, sore throats and hoarse voices. Others have been used externally for healing rashes, sunburns and bruises.
In terms of mental health, jasmine is one of the best anti-depressive scents and is popular in some quarters for its aphrodisiac effect. There is a reason it has the nickname “Mistress of the Night.” The scent is certainly overpowering and intoxicating and while most love it, for some it can feel a tad excessive and suffocating. Jasmine is often associated with moonlight, mystery, love and magic.
Dosage: Standard essential oil usage.
Contraindications: Standard essential oil precautions.
Latin: Piscidia piscipula
Parts Used: Root Bark
Taste/Energetics: Bitter, cooling
Properties: Diaphoretic, anxiolytic, sedative, antispasmodic, analgesic
Actions: This is one of my main go-to herbs for pain relief as it has a very marked and direct action that is deeply helpful and synergistic with other analgesic plants. Though it has a marked anxiolytic and even sedative property, I think of it primarily as an antispasmodic and pain relieving herb. It has traditionally been used to paralyze fish to make them easier to catch and that muscle relaxant effect is notable in humans as well. It has been noted to have a narcotic effect and I would imagine in large doses that is possible but I don’t find the effect nearly as strong or narcotic as opium. Otherwise I imagine hordes of people would have easily stripped the South East of all of this tree to turn into drugs at this point. As an analgesic it is quite useful for all types- including neuralgia, muscle cramping, arthritis, migraine, rheumatic complaints and especially for pain that keeps one up at night as it will have a sedative effect as well.
Herbalist SevenSong notes that it is quite useful for a wide variety of analgesic needs and is generally well tolerated with side effects being uncommon. He writes “For me, it is a classic first aid plant. It can be offered to someone soon after they arrive to a first aid station, even while still evaluating the extent of an injury and the dosage can be incrementally increased.”
Dosage: Growing in small parts of the South-East, Central America, South America, Jamaica and Caribbean islands, it is not a common tree and should be treated with respect and only purchased by ethical growers and harvesters. This plant is best taken as a tincture (fairly nasty as a tea) from 1-2 ml up to 3 x/day. As tea 2-4 teaspoons to pint of water decocted for 40 minutes to 2 x/day. Not an herb to be taken regularly- best taken intermittently. It provides symptomatic relief but the larger underlying pain issues should also be addressed.
Contraindications: Not to be taken with opiates, benzodiazapenes or other strong sedative and analgesic medications. Caution should be taken to avoid large doses for those with respiratory distress.
Latin: Gynostemma pentaphyllum
Parts Used: Leaf
Taste/Energetics: Sweet, slightly bitter, cooling
Properties: Antispasmodic, anxiolytic, hypotensive, adaptogen, immunostimulant, blood sugar regulator, libido enhancer, anti-inflammatory, expectorant.
Actions: This is one of the most amazing and underutilized herbs available to us. Jiaogulan is indigenous to Southern China and was commonly used by people native to that region but was not common in most traditional Chinese herbal medicine formulas. Thats surprising because it has so many amazing properties and is one of the most enjoyable herbs to drink by itself as a tea.
This is an herb that has commonly been used as a general rejuvenating adaptogenic tonic to combat fatigue, relieve stress, improve stamina, libido and improve memory, concentration and cognitive acuity.
In the 70’s researchers discovered that it contains an enormous array of saponin constituents (including gypenosides similar to ginsenosides found in ginseng) that are linked to its tonic adaptogenic effect. But while ginseng is often too heating, stimulating and strong for many people, jiaogulan is well tolerated by most people with rare side effects. Jiaogulan is also useful for lowering blood pressure and strengthening cardiac health by preventing heart muscle disease, stabilizing an erratic heartbeat and preventing blood clotting. Jiaogulan also stimulates the immune system to function optimally and is useful for fighting off colds, the flu and helping in cases of chronic bronchitis. Interestingly, this is an herbal tea one can take in the morning for increased stamina, but also later in the evening to help one relax. It has a bi-directional effect on the nervous system, both stimulating and calming. It is one of the most useful plants to take regularly for promoting good, restful sleep.
This is an amazing herb that works almost as a panacea, is gentle, can be tolerated by most anyone and tastes delicious as a regularly consumed tea. It is also being grown in an ethical manner in various parts of Asia and is relatively cheap. It is an herb that I would suggest to people who are worn out, frazzled, stressed with heat signs such as psoriasis, insomnia, poor memory and anxiety. But it is also a tea that I would suggest to anyone as a pick me up, a yummy tasting beverage.
Dosage: I generally recommend a heaping tablespoon of jiaogulan to one cup of hot water infused for 10 minutes. You can take it in capsule form 1-2 grams a day but tea is superior in effect. Tincture 1-3 ml to 3 x/day.
Contraindications: Hypotension, for those taking blood thinners, sedatives, avoid in pregnancy.
Latin: Celastrus paniculatus
Properties: Analgesic, stimulant, nootropic, diaphoretic, mildly aphrodisiac, antipruritic, mildly laxative
Actions: This is an Ayurvedic herb that has long been renowned for its ability to improve cognitive function, memory, reduce stress, calm anxiety and improve sleep. The oil of this plant is strongly stimulating and helpful for painful “stuck” pain such as gout, paralysis, sciatica arthritis and neuralgia. Its moving qualities make it useful for stimulating peristalsis and for improving respiration.
In terms of mental health, this should be considered mainly for its analgesic, calming, and cognitive enhancing properties. Jyotishmati literally means an herb which is cognitively enlightening. Its stimulating properties make it useful with folks who feel stuck, anxious, tight with pain, cloudy or dull in mind and thought.
Dosage: 1-3 grams as powder or in capsules. Traditionally the seeds have been chewed (upwards of a 100 a day). The oil can be used in liniments for external pain relief, to decrease itching and reduce muscle paralysis. 5-15 drops of seed oil.
Contraindications: Avoid taking oil internally (emetic).