Latin: Cayaponia tayuya
Parts Used: Root
Taste/Energetics: Bitter, cooling
Properties: Diuretic, anti-inflammatory. analgesic, stomachic, tonic, antispasmodic, anxiolytic, metabolic tonic
Actions: This is an herb with a long history of use by indigenous peoples of South America. Tanya has a moderate anti-inflammatory property which makes it useful for helping those with arthritis, neuralgia, sciatica and headaches. It helps act as an alterative, improving absorption and the elimination of waste particles which in turn helps reduce inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. With its tonic property it improves stamina, reduces fatigue and depression.
Dosage: 1-2 gram of powder. 2-4 tsp decoction in pint of water for 40 mins. 1-2 ml in tincture to 3 x/day.
Contraindications: None known
Latin: Camelia sinensis
Parts Used: Leaf.
Taste/Energetics: Depends on the processing. Green more neutral in temperature. Black more warming. All tend to have complex flavors but are often bitter, aromatic and slightly sweet.
Properties: Antioxidant, cardioporotective, stimulant, diuretic,
Actions: As one of the most common stimulant plants containing caffeine, tea from Camelia sinensis comes in a variety of forms. Besides location, the form of processing tea is key to its flavor, taste and effect. The main factor in the difference between white, green, oolong or black is the process of oxidation. The more a plant is subject to oxidation, the more it turns black.
Though we traditionally think that caffeine content is higher in black tea than green tea that has not been born out in research. In fact, caffeine content varies widely from tea to tea. Caffeine content does rise the longer a tea is steeped in hot water. On average you can think of a cup of tea as having on average 20-60 mg of caffeine compared to a cup of coffee containing from 100-150 mg.
There has ben a lot of focus on green tea being the more health giving type of tea due to higher levels of flavonoid antioxidants. However, both appear to have immune and cardiac improving properties and research has pointed to both green and black tea reducing the risk of stroke.
White tea: Tea buds are picked when they are still tightly enclosed and then just wilted and dried. White tea really retains the flavor and essence of the plant.
Green tea: This is the type of tea that is gathered and either heated by steam or pan firing to avoid oxidation. Green tea is highest in anti-oxidant flavonoids.
Oolong: This is semi-oxidized tea that tends to retain the flavor of green tea while having a more earthy, roasted flavor.
Black tea: These are fully oxidized teas that are rich and strong in taste and flavor. Many of these teas are familiar to us such as English Breakfast, Darjeeling or Earl Grey.
Pu’erh: These are teas that have been fermented and tend to improve with aging and time. They can be bought green or black.
Dosage: 1-2 tsp per cup is common. Green tea is best steeped in 160-180 degree temp water to retain flavor. Black tea can be steeped in boiling water. In general tea only needs 2-3 minutes to steep. The longer the steep, the more bitter the flavor and the higher the caffeine content.
As a side note, one of the main things that annoy me when I go to a cafe is that I am asked what size cup of tea I would like- with price being variant on the size of cup. How ridiculous is that? The price should vary due to the amount of tea being placed in the cup. You put more tea in my cup, I will pay you more. End rant.
Contraindications: Avoid if sensitive to caffeine.
Latin: Dispacus sylvestris
Parts Used: Roots
Taste/Energetics: Bitter, pungent, warm
Properties: Diuretic, astringent , blood circulatory stimulant
Actions: Walking out along roadsides and up into open weedy meadows in the winter you are likely to see the tall dark stalks of dried up teasel. This is a weedy herb that had been largely ignored by western herbalists until Matthew Wood brought it back to people’s attention. Wood sees it as a powerful restorer of vital energy and deeply protective against lyme disease and its wide varying effects on the immune and nervous system with associated brain fog, confusion, neuralgic pain and severe fatigue. Wood sees this as a “kidney tonic” as seen through a traditional Chinese medicine lens. He writes that “The muscle and joint pain, the deterioration of structure, the helplessness and loss of purpose all relate to this pattern.” Traditional Chinese medicine also views this root as strengthening kidney essence and repairing damaged tissues, bones and ligaments.
Dosage: Traditional root decoction of 5-10 grams a day in pint of hot water for 40 minutes. Tincture 2-4 ml to 3 x/day.
Latin: Thymus vulgaris
Parts Used: Leaf
Taste/Energetics: Warm, drying
Properties: Carminative, antimicrobial, immunostimulant, expectorant. antispasmodic, anxiolytic, circulatory stimulant, expectorant
Actions: This is another Mediterranean herb primarily used in cooking but is also used in aromatherapy as an essential oil. Thyme gently relaxes the stomach wall and eases cramping to improve digestion. Thyme helps move ad circulate blood and has an expectorant and antispasmodic property useful for hacking coughs and asthmatic attacks. Thyme can be helpful for treating coughs, colds and sore throats due to its antimicrobial properties. In terms of mental health it is often used in aromatherapy formulas for its uplifting, stimulating qualities.
Dosage: Generally as culinary garnish. Standard dosage in essential oils. 1-2 teaspoons of herb in cup of hot water infused for 10 minutes to 2x/day.
Contraindications: Standard essential oil precautions.
Latin: Nicotiana tabacum
Parts Used: Leaf
Taste/Energetics: Bitter, sweet, warming
Properties: Stimulant, anxiolytic, diuretic, expectorant, emetic when taken in large doses, antispasmodic
Actions: This is one of the three most used stimulants in the world- along with coffee and tea. Sadly tobacco has a really bad rap because it has been commodified and packaged with huge amounts of preservatives and added nicotine in a way that has hooked hundreds of millions of people. Cigarettes are one of the leading killers of the modern age but tobacco itself is a wonderful herb if used with respect and care.
As we all know, tobacco contains nicotine, a potent alkaloid that is both stimulating and relaxing. That quality of stimulation can make it addictive similar to other alkaloids like caffeine, morphine and cocaine. The effect is short lasting (10-20 minutes) and the desire for another “hit” is palpable in regular users.
Outside of its “discovery” in the New Worlds and its eventual commodification as a vice, tobacco has long been a sacred plant to many Indigenous groups that recognized its potent effect and its ability to bring clarity, stimulation, spiritual connection and for purification. When I worked with indigenous Quichua in Ecuador, the ayahuascero healers commonly used tobacco smoke to cleanse and purify those who were taking part in ritual. Tobacco in that culture and many others is considered a great Teacher, a master plant deserving great respect.
Until recent times, tobacco was often smoked occasionally and generally for ritual, healing and sacred purposes. But as Europeans integrated tobacco, they increasingly smoked it, chewed it and snorted it (snuff) as a stimulant for recreational purposes. Physicians also used it for a variety of reasons: for enemas, to treat fever and gout, to kill internal worms and as an external wound healing agent for boils, sores, abrasions and to help with neuralgia.
While addictive cigarette smoking is a pretty terrible health risk, quite a few people with a history of trauma and a history of mental illness use cigarettes as a way of medicating their anxiety and depression. While its not the best option, it is fairly understandable. Ultimately the best option would be to work with this plant how it was used before colonization- as a sacred medicine to be used sparingly.
Dosage: Generally to smoke- best infrequent with good intention and with additive chemical free tobacco.
Contraindications: Addictive and likely eventually lethal if used frequently. Avoid when pregnant, nursing, if there is hypertension, pulmonary issues.
Latin: Eurycoma longifolia
Parts Used: Root
Taste/Energetics: Bitter, warming
Properties: Antimicrobial antimalarial, analgesic, aphrodisiac, circulatory tonic
Actions: Tongkat ali is a common herb to much of South-East Asia where it is used for a variety of reasons including for combating malaria and fever, to relieve headaches and stomachaches and for its libido enhancing properties. In the West it is now promoted primarily as an aphrodisiac with lots of extracts available on the internet. In studies, tongkat ali does indeed improve sperm production and improve erectile function. There is quite a bit of chatter that this is a testosterone builder with anti-estrogenic effects but no research has established that as of yet.
Dosage: 200-300 mg of 100:1 extract.
Contraindications: There is good concern about the sustainability of using this plant. Ethical harvest is must. Can cause irritability and insomnia. Avoid if there is cardiac illness, hypertension.
Latin: Tribulus terrestris
Parts Used: seed? fruit
Taste/Energetics: Slightly warming and drying
Properties: Tonic, hypotensive, aphrodisiac
Actions: This is an herb that has long been used by the ancient Greeks as a general tonic and in ayurveda as a libido enhancer and aphrodisiac. Tribulus contains a number of interesting saponins and sterols that are associated with improving the free circulation of testosterone and promoting higher sexual energy levels. In the 80’s this herb was “discovered” by the body building world who have promoted it strongly as an anabolic alternative to steroids and for its potential testosterone boosting properties. Most research have not shown that it does boost testosterone but there re some conflicting reports on this.
Dosage: Powder- 1-2 grams to 2x/day. tincture 1-2 ml to 3x/daily.
Contraindications: None noted
Latin: Curcuma longa
Parts Used: Rhizome
Taste/Energetics: Bitter, warming, drying
Properties: Anti-inflammatory, analgesic, alterative, antimicrobial, antioxidant, antispasmodic, acarminative, astringent. diuretic, vulnerary, circulatory stimulant, anti-tumoral, nootropic
Actions: Endemic to tropical areas of Asia, turmeric has long been used to spice dishes and for its medicinal value. Turmeric is commonly used in India for a variety of concerns. It improves digestive and hepatic function, soothes inflammation such as arthritis, ulcers and chronic pain, stimulates better circulation, bolsters the immune system, and helps to improves reproductive system. Turmeric is also useful as an external agent to help heal cuts, abrasions, stings and burns.
In terms of mental health, turmeric works in a number of ways. It can help to heal a sluggish, tense digestive system. When the gut does not absorb nutrients effectively, overall vitality decreases. Gut permeability can lead to unwanted cytokines entering the bloodstream and causing inflammation. Quite a bit of research is going into looking at inflammation as one of the main causes of depression and anxiety. Turmeric acts an excellent anti-inflammatory that in turn reduces the potential for anxiety and depression. Turmeric has also been studies for its cognitive enhancing and protective features and appears to be quite useful in cases of dementia and alzheimers.
Research done with rats have shown that turmeric can reduce the potential for deeply recording fear after a traumatic event. That means it shows potential as an agent to offer folks who have PTSD.
Dosage: This will be beating a dead horse but herbs are generally better when you can taste them. The tongue receives information about the taste and energetics of the herb and sends signals to the rest of the body for healing. That is why I am not a fan of taking turmeric in capsules. Generally you will find turmeric sold as a standardized powder that contains a certain percentage of its active constituent curcumin. 500 mg to 4 x/day.
In the best situation, turmeric would be taken by fresh grating the root or using fresh powder and adding it into meals or beverages 1-2 grams to 2 x/day. Powdered turmeric will lose its efficacy if its been sitting on your shelf for a year.
The root can be tinctured but I find this an inferior way of taking this herb. 1-2 ml to 3 x/day
Contraindications: Turmeric and its main active constituent curcumin have become something of a panacea these days with everyone putting it into smoothies, meals and taking it as capsules, etc. And while turmeric is generally a good thing, there are some precautions. It is generally warming and drying and not as good for an overly hot, dry type and can cause excessive drying out of tissues if taken in large doses or taken regularly.
Latin: Valeriana officinalis
Parts Used: Roots
Taste/Energetics: Bitter, warming, drying
Properties: Anxiolytic, hypnotic, slightly analgesic, stimulating for some, antispasmodic
Actions: This is one of the most commonly used herbs for anxiety relief and as a hypnotic to improve sleep. It has a long history of use dating back to the Ancient Greeks. Valerian is a fairly strong acting herb on the nervous system and for a number of folks it can prove to have an opposite effect and be stimulating, making sleep harder. Mildly analgesic. It is best for the cold, sluggish, exhausted and worn out type and should be offered cautiously to those who appeared wired and tired, excitable with heat signs.
Dosage: This is an herb that most folks take in tincture form as it is a fairly bitter herb to consume as a tea. 2-4 tsp to one pint of hot water decoct for 40 mins. As tincture 1-3 ml as needed to 3 x/day.
Contraindications: Avoid with “hot types”.
Latin: Chrysopogon (Vetiver) zizanioides
Parts Used: Aerial
Properties: Anti-inflammatory, anxiolytic, antimicrobial, aphrodisiac, vulnerary
Actions: Vetiver is a strongly aromatic grass that has long been used in India as an uplifting and relaxing oil. It has a deep, rich, woody and earthy tone that is often used by aromatherapists for helping those with depression, insomnia, anxiety, stress and achy tight muscles.
Dosage: As essential oil, standard dosage.
Contraindications: Standard essential oil warnings.
Latin: Verbena officinalis, hastata- (blue vervain)
Parts Used: Aerial portion
Taste/Energetics: Very bitter, acrid, drying and cooling
Properties: Anxiolytic, antispasmodic, analgesic, diaphoretic, vulnerary, carminative, emmenagogue, galactagogue
Actions: This is one of the most bitter herbs I know and not one I like to generally include in tea formulas as it is so strong in taste. Its strong and potent in tincture form and often only a small dose of 10-20 drops can be very effective. Vervain primarily acts to relax the nervous system, relieving tension and strain, especially from folks who are very wound up and tight, with headaches, migraine, insomnia, bursts of anger and underlying anxiety. This is often a good choice for type A individuals or those who have gone through quite a bit of stress and trauma. It has a marked positive effect on those who hold their anxious tension in their stomachs and is helpful for folks who have tight, crampy indigestion.
As herbalist Kiva Rose puts it, “Their anxiety, while usually based in fear, mostly manifests as an aggravated, edgy attitude and an over-talkative brain that keeps them from restful sleep, good sex and general satisfaction with themselves or their lives. They may seem initially growly and unhappy, but in many cases it is simply the tremendous pressure of their internal tension that makes them so unapproachable and even haughty. It’s not unusual for their to be some level of alcoholism or addiction issues present.”
Dosage: Pretty challenging to drink as a tea because of bitterness. 2-4 tsp to one pint of water decocted for 40 minutes. Best in tincture form 10 drops to 2 ml as needed up to 3 x/day. Not for long term use.
Contraindications: Can cause an upset stomach, skin irritations, avoid with sedatives, during pregnancy
Latin: Viola sp.
Parts Used: Flowers, leaves
Taste/Energetics: Cooling, moist
Properties: Anxiolytic, demulcent, tonic, anti-inflammatory, analgesic (gentle)
Actions: Violets are a beautiful lovely flower that is often overlooked as an herb. Violets are gently relaxing and cooling to the body, helping to reduce fevers, sore throats, inflamed digestive tract and moisten dry skin. Rich in nutrients such as vitamins A and C, violets also have a nice nutritional tonic effect. Violets contain methyl salicylate and are good for relieving pain and inflammation. Violet is a nice uplifting herb that will soothe and relax someone who feels uptight, frustrated, sad and anxious.
Dosage: This is an herb best prepared by adding it to salads as a garnish or made into a tea. Infuse 1-3 tsp of violet in a cup of hot water for 10 minutes. Does well in syrups and honeys as well. I don’t recommend tinctured violets.