Welcome to Winter everyone! I know that for some the frosty chill has been creeping in since before Samhain and we’re still a few days out from the Solstice, but here in LA winter has come in the form of so much rain. We’ve had a break finally, but I for one find myself exalted in the drizzles and occasional downpours. This swamp witch is not meant for deserts, so it’s a helluva good thing I live in at least a temperate one.
As we near Yule on the 21-23, I feel the shortening of days. Hello Darkness, my old friend. We’ve been acquainted, intimately, all of my life. I feel it in the 4:30 sunsets, in the steeply angled Noontime, in the Seasonal Affective Disorder I didn't manage to leave behind in the seat of darkness Portland, OR. But I no longer resist it. The darkness breeds stillness and the stillness is key; without it how can one track their momentum? The stillness is still foreign to me however; between freelancing and ADD, my body and brain do not come with off switches. I must be intentional with creating space for myself to slow down and relax. The relaxing in fact is difficult to the point of damaging; my last massage revealed that my back and pectoral muscles are full of scar tissue and I’m “tight” down to my hamstrings. But this is why we have the Earth has provided us with powerful aids in helping our brains and bodies slow down while keeping spirits up! Here are a handful of Herbal allies I turn to in the winter to keep afloat (I’m waving not drowning, I swear!)
St John’s/Joan’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) (pictured above)
This sweet spicy yellow star is one of the most valuable herbs in my personal arsenal. I take it every day (paired with Rhodiola and Ashwaganda) to help treat my depression and anxiety and I was actually able to reduce my medication because it has been so effective!*
This flowering shrub (“weed”) grows invasively in many many places (so much so that it had to be eradicated in SoCal 😞) and as such is easily foraged all over the place, but especially in more temperate areas. It blooms at the height of summer, peaking at the Summer Solstice (or St John’s Day as it is known in Catholicism, hence the name). It thusly absorbs much summer sunlight that it graciously provides us in the darkness of winter.
If you do find it fresh, you can confirm its potency by crushing a bud; if it “bleeds” red or purple, you know it’s ready! And if you look at the leaves, you can see tiny “holes” letting the light through (“perforatum” eh?) that are actually little capsules full of oil-soluble medicine.
Being a nervine, it has a powerful action on the nervous system, in particular on depression and anxiety. There are numerous studies out there showing its effectiveness as a treatment, occasionally even more effective than SSRIs (the most common class of antidepressants), as well as for specifically SAD. It is also excellent for nerve pain (as well as most other types of pain as well!) when used topically, making its oil an excellent rub for Sciatica, Fibromialgia, and the like. It is also antimicrobial and vulnerary, meaning it is a great treatment for minor wounds, especially burns, as well (it’s an ingredient in our Hedge Witch Healing Salve, as well as our Angelica Marigold Pressed Serum).
It’s best extracted fresh, so if you’re looking to use it*, look for a tincture or oil made from fresh plants! The extracts take on a gorgeous ruby hue that makes it all the more fun to use!
I could go one about this lil ray of sunshine until Midsummer so for more info, check out https://theherbalacademy.com/st-johns-wort-not-just-depression/ !
(Also in general, if you’re curious about an herb, search it on Wikipedia, you’d be surprised how much information you can get there!)
Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum or tenuiflorum)
Tulsi, also known as Holy Basil, is a lovely, fragrant adaptogen used extensively in Ayurvedic traditions for thousands of years. It is held incredibly sacred and considered an earthly incarnation of the goddess Tulasi. Even in Western traditions of herbalism and magic, its spirit is strong and undeniably present in its scent and actions.
As an adaptogen, it falls in a class of herbs that are particular allies to our current times. Adaptogens help return the body to homeostasis by helping it self-correct from whichever extreme we’ve grown accustomed to due to everyday stress. Tulsi can help balance energy levels, relieving fatigue (especially of the chronic variety) without stimulation, and soothing racing heart and thoughts without sedating, a great action when the dark gets you down.
It is an immunomodulator, meaning again that it can balance your body’s immune response without overstimulating it, making it an incredible ally during “cold and flu season”. It’s also been known to help a body balance insulin levels and blood pressure. As a member of the mint family, it can also aid in balancing the digestion, stimulating and soothing, so keep it close during this feasting season.
Magically, it is protector, so keep it close if your boundaries are being tested this season.
2 parts Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
2 parts Tulsi
1 part Skullcap (Scutellaria laterifolia)
This blend is most soothing, fragrant way to unwind in any season, but I suggest you make a big batch to last through til spring (and sign up for Alexis’s newsletter, it is the best!).
For more info, check out https://www.herbrally.com/monographs/tulsi-rh
Wild Lettuce (Lactuca virosa)
This is another of those unassuming weeds you find just everywhere in SoCal in the summer and fall that secretly contains powerful medicine, so much so that it blows my mind. I have a story to go with this one.
I was on set filming a short film that takes place at a sleepover. My character spends a good portion of the time either rolling or smoking joints, which were filled with the go-to tobacco/weed replacement for movie sets. It did not contain any of either, and yet every time I would smoke it, I would get so sleepy I’d want to take a nap (I hate naps). I looked up the formula and recognized nearly every herb (raspberry leaf, red clover, marshmallow) and none of them were sedative! But there was one I’d never heard of: Wild Lettuce. As a life-long insomniac, I knew I’d found a new friend.
Not one of the more popular or readily available (in shops) herbs out there, this leafy weed is a powerful nervine, antispasmodic, sedative, hypnotic, and analgesic. The milky latex that bleeds out of its stems is often called Lettuce Opium, though its effects are nowhere near narcotic. That said, it has been used with other herbs as a support for those detoxing from opiates, which is most definitely something we need more of these days.
In my experience, its pain relieving effects are comparable to those of your standard dose of Ibuprofen, without the stomach pain. That said, there can be side effects (mostly nausea, dizziness, and agitation), so start small and I suggest you do some more research if you’re concerned. Its relaxing qualities, however, are robust and set in reasonably quickly depending on how you take it, so I keep it near me on these quiet nights when my mind can’t slow down.
When I use this herb, I mostly just smoke it as I’m impatient when it comes to getting to sleep and making myself relax. If you decide to follow suit, remember that you’re still smoking so keep in mind the concerns that come with that.
It is a powerful plant, but is considered safe in moderate doses.
Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla or Chamomilla recutita)
Ah, sweet chamomile. Used by the ancients and also your mom, the lovely apple-scented yellow bud is one of the most ubiquitous nervines we have today. It is incredibly safe, used for children and pets as well as adults, and has a beautifully soothing effect on the nervous and digestive systems. It is antispasmodic, anti-inflamatory, anti-microbial, and anti-darkness (ok the last one hasn’t been studied but that’s been my experience!).
Drink a strong cup of chamomile tea (the bitter constituents aid in digestion but don’t taste amazing so try not to oversteep) when your nerves feel wrecked after a family fight or a hectic flight. Drink its tea when your holiday meals don’t sit too well. Drink its tea the morning after to soothe your hangover (add some ginger if you’re queasy). Drink its tea to help your hunched shoulders relax the tension away. Drink its tea to feel the warmth of sunshine on your back chasing away the Dark&Scaries. There’s no such thing as a cure-all, but chamomile can sometimes feel that way.
It has other amazing properties and uses (chamomile-infused coconut oil for yeast infections????) but right now, that warm golden nectar of Chamomile Tea is really all you need.
For more info, https://theherbalacademy.com/a-family-herb-chamomile-flower/
Honestly, this one doesn’t really need an explanation. Perhaps divisive and often still illegal, no one can deny its effect on the human body (and culture). Some like it, some don’t, some prefer not to even try. I’m not here to convince you either way, but if you’re skeptical that its effects can be medicinal, I suggest you look to the ever growing mass of medical studies showing just that.
All I have to say is that nothing shuts my anxious ADHD brain down as effectively and gently with no hangover as a good Indica. Use wisely.
I hope these allies can aid you in ending your year in peace so you can start 2020 with clarity and intent.
*I did this with the supervision of my psychiatrist and in tandem with Cognitive and Dialectical behavior therapy. I still take anti-depressants as well, there is no shame in needing more help than herbs and other “natural” remedies can provide. Please consult a licensed physician before changing medication or adding supplements, especially St John’s Wort as it can interfere with a number of medications including SSRIs, MAOIs, and blood pressure medications.