Learning About Herbs

I woke up with this quote by Marcus Aurelius in my head: “The first rule is to keep an untroubled spirit. The second is to look things in the face and know them for what they are…”

This first week of November, it seems timely to suggest herbs to help untrouble your spirit. Though I will say it’s important to read up about herbs before trying them out. Here’s a story about my early herbal ‘education’.

Decades ago, I went to a store that had herbs in bulk and picked a few to buy. I was just going to experiment. I choose Senna leaf and Black Cohosh. Thankfully, my sister Ellen noticed the Senna leaf and told me it’s used as a laxative. So if I planned to sit down with a pot of tea that evening, I should be prepared. I decided to not to try that herb.

The next herb I tried, sometime later, was Black Cohosh (Cimicifuga Racemosa. See photo). I made a pot, settled at my drawing table for a few hours and then went to bed. Soon I woke up because I was having what I thought were cramps. They would come and go and I had no idea why. Was it a bug? Was it food poisoning? How do I deal with this?

Not having health insurance, or the money to pay for an ER visit, I just had to deal with it. So I breathed deeply when I felt the cramps. I used yoga to relax. I took a hot bath. I rocked in a rocking chair. This went on for a few hours overnight. By morning, I felt better. But hey, that was weird.

So I decided to go to the local steam bath to clear out any toxins if that was it. As Luck or Fate or Chance would have it, at the steam bath I met a woman who was an herbalist and midwife. She asked what tea I had drank and I told her. Black Cohosh… “Oh,” she said, “those were contractions you were having!”

Years later, I remembered that… because all the things I instinctively did (deep breathing, yoga, rocking, hot bath) were all things I taught and encouraged as a doula. Ah, those were good instincts. And I did learn how plants have specific effects and I am wiser when I use them. Learning about plants, how they keep growing and what they have to offer does help to keep my spirit less troubled.

Here are two good resources for you.
• Herbal ABC’s; The Foundation of Herbal Medicine.   Dr. Sharol Marie Tilgner
• Herbal Healing for Women   Rosemary Gladstar

Another related book, though not specifically herbal medicine:
•Braiding Sweetgrass    Robin Wall Kimmerer