Archive for July, 2012

Blantant Silliness: The Herbalist Strikes!

Posted on July 24, 2012. Filed under: Blatant Silliness |

Given it is Summer and I’m on vacation – I think it is long past time for an extremely silly vaguely herbal related post.  Warning – nothing serious or terrible informative to be found here today – enjoy!

This post was inspired by my new haircut – which I love but I recognize is one bad hair day or hair product misadventure from having me look like a 1960s comic book villain…so in the style of the 1960s TV live action Batman:


We join the Caped Crusader as he arrives at Commissioner Gordon’s office after being summoned by the Bat Signal.

Commissioner Gordon: “Thank goodness you’re here Batman!  And you too as well Boy Wonder!  Everyone in the police station was asleep when I got here.  Do you know what is going on?”

Batman:  “Well, Commissioner, if you notice you’ll detect a vague floral scent in the air fading fast which is Hops flower (Humulus lupulus) and no doubt the cause of your somnambulatory staff.  Someone has put a concentrated brew of Hops flower into the ventilation system and its remarkable sedative property is responsible.  Here Robin take the Bat-Wake-Up Gas and spray it around.    There’s no doubt that there is only one villain who would use peaceful herbs for such evil.  It must be the work of the Herbalist!  But what can he be up to?”

What indeed Caped Crusader.  Meantime, over at the Herbalist’s secret hideout in an abandoned botanical garden, the nefarious nasty chortles over his latest scheme with his henchmen Osha  (Ligusticum porteri)  and Lobelia (Lobelia spp.)

Herbalist:  “Those blundering buffoons will never figure out my scheme.   I now have the complete security plans to the Women’s Herbal Conference and their exhibit of a new cultivar of False Unicorn Root (Chamaelirium luteum) which is easy to raise in a variety of environments while still having the same medicinal properties.   And soon it will be mine.”

Osha:  “But why boss?  Whatja want to do that for?”

Herbalist: “Because you simpering simpleton.   As long as it is rare I can charge whatever I want for the ones I steal from the wild!  If anyone can grow it, it would be a cheap and plentiful reproductive tonic for all women.  And we can’t have that!”

Lobelia: “Gee, that’s not very nice using plants that way.”

Herbalist: “Well, I am an evil Herbalist!”

Later at the Women’s Herbal Conference, the Herbalist begins his horrible heist only to be greeted by the Dynamic Duo!  And after a quick fight the villain is subdued.

Robin:  “If only he’d learn that plants are best used for the good of all and not for evil!”

Batman:  “Well said old chum.”

Afterward, the women from the conference come to offer their thanks to Batman and he tries to ward them off.

But alas none of the women herbalists were actually villains and he had to run away.

As to why Batman runs so from women is a question best left for another day.

Join us next week.  Same Bat-Time.  Same Bat-Channel.

(Okay, I lied I did insert some useful information including Latin names and some medicinal properties!  And next time a more serious post….)

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Herb(s) of the Week: I Dream of Mugwort

Posted on July 17, 2012. Filed under: Herb(s) of the Week, Plant Friends, Spiritual Practice | Tags: |

Ah, Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) so awesome and so loved.

Mugwort Fans

See that’s how people react with hysterical joy at seeing Mugwort.

Okay, not really. That’s how herbalists react then.

You don’t buy that either?

Alright…that’s how I react. Happy now?

I love Mugwort. I sometimes get a little too excited about Mugwort on plant walks and can ignore the plants herbalists are supposed to be excited about because they aren’t as common. And since Mugwort is so common it is easy to take for granted.

The fact that it is so common, especially in urban areas is part of the magic for me.

Mugwort—Artemisia-vulgaris (Image by Michael Blackmore, Mad Crow Herbals)

Mugwort loves being near us and supporting us like few plants do. New herbalists are often surprised to find it appearing at their door when it wasn’t there before. It’s just Mugwort’s job to be the herbal welcome wagon and welcome you to the plant friend community. 🙂

Personal Connection and Journey:

In the photo above was the Mugwort that welcomed me when I first started studying herbalism formally. It appeared in the doorway of an abandoned garage that I walked by every day on my way to work. It eventually grew to be more than eight feet tall and was the first plant I dreamed about. That specific plant appeared in a dream of mine, inspiring me to make a tea of its leaves and drink before I went to bed that night – leading me to a very life changing dream of reorienting my life to a healing arts path.

Early on in my herbal training I chose Mugwort as the first plant I explored in a journey. From my dream/journey journal of the time:

“I had the image of the green side nourishing me and the silver side protecting me by reflecting harmful energy away. I also saw it reflecting me so I could truly see myself. I felt it entering me and shifting my hormones and re-balancing them.”

At the time I didn’t know how accurate most of that was but it was my first lesson in the value of such explorations in working with plants in addition to actual study (never neglect formal study!)

So Mugwort has been a long time plant ally and even now I pick a leaf and chew it on the way to work each morning.

One of the most poetic summations of the wonders of Mugwort comes from the book Herbal Rituals by Judith Berger (Buy It! Read It! Love It!):

“Mugwort’s renown among common folk as a powerful systemic healer reaching into the reproductive, digestive, urinary, and respiratory tracts has earned this Artemisia the nickname cronewort. Like the old woman who has passed through many moons, harvesting wisdom into the folds of her wide skirt, this common weed, denounced and torn up recklessly by the ignorant, truly walks and lives amongst the people. As the village midwife once nurtured the heart of the community with compassion, knowledge, common sense, and magic, cronewort has soothed the pain of childbirth, eased the tenderness of aching joints, comforted bellies, and instilled vision among human beings for centuries with her knowing medicine.

Intractable and sturdy as a hag, cronewort stretches its roots amid those urban places humans tend to scurry rather than wander in, their hurried pace forgetful of the very existence of the natural world. Affectionately referred to in Russian as zabytko, which means forgetful, cronewort’s strong camphorlike oils, when inhaled, open up chambers of ancient memory with the brain, bringing one’s dream life stirring visions of past and future that overflow with magical imagery. The symbols which dance through our cronewort-touched dreams pull out the cobwebs of our forgetfulness and assist us in remembering old, unwritten ways of healing and living that attend to the needs of the spirit and soul.”

Just beautifully written and it really captures the magic of Mugwort.

Some of the Spirit Properties:

  • It is thought to help with fairy antics and to strip away illusion.
  • Generally considered magically protective.
  • Used for divination – use Mugwort for several nights in a pillow for clairvoyant dreams.
  • Believed to enhance spiritual vision, dreams and meditation.
  • Aids with connections to self.

I have to admit I tend to use it more along these spirit lines than anything else. But it, of course, has health uses as well.

Some of the Health Properties:

  • A bit of nervine and generally calming to the system.
  • It’s a good digestive bitter and a Mugwort vinegar will support and improve the digestive system and increase appetite.
  • A gentle diaphoretic and warming.
  • A strong traditional ally to women, hormonally balancing and an Emmenagogue (do not take during pregnancy.)
  • It can also be used as an external remedy with strong infusions helping with Poison Oak, bruises, ulcers, etc.

Not often the go to remedy for any of these conditions, but it is a shame because I think it is a wonderful supporting herb when used in combinations with the other herbs along those lines. Even by itself it is effective and has more gentle action than the first choice herbs used for similar ailments.

It has a variety of fun older common and folk names including: Artemis Herb, Cronewort, Felon Herb, Gypsy’s Tobacco, Mother of Herbs, Naughty Man, Old Man, Old Uncle Harry, Sailor’s Tobacco, St. John’s Plant, Witch Herb.

Here some of my favorite things that I’ve read about but never tried with it:

“Bruised Mugwort leaves mixed with fresh butter is a good remedy for sprains and dislocations. Boil 1 tablespoon Mugwort in wine and water, and take every two hours for gravel and bladder complaints.” – Brother Aloysius

Conclusion: Mugwort is a great plant ally, abundant and helpful. A friend to herbalists too often passed by for flasher herbs. Talk about the girl next door the hero ignores and shouldn’t – that’s Mugwort all over. Spend some time with Mugwort and learn to love it as the Ambassador of the Herbal World that is all around us.

References of Note:

Comfort to the Sick by Brother Aloysius
Healing Magic by Robin Rose Bennett
Herbal Rituals by Judith Berger (most poetic)
Backyard Medicine by Julie Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal (best write up)
Magical Herbalism by Scott Cunningham
The Magical Lore of Herbs by Marion Davies
A Modern Herbal by Maud Grieve
The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants by Matthew Wood

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Ayurveda – Initial Explorations

Posted on July 11, 2012. Filed under: Healing, Path of the Healer | Tags: |

A few weeks back I met with an Ayurvedic health counselor and it started me on a bit on an exploration of Ayurveda which inspired some thoughts.

One of the reasons I went was because I was interested in its take on my weather sensitivity. I’ve always been extraordinarily in tune with the weather and its changes and moods. When I was younger it was simply an uprush of energy as storms came in and general mood connections to the weather patterns. As I grew older it morphed into more elaborate and annoying trends. Difficulty sleeping during big weather shifts, lightheaded feelings during increasing temperatures, etc. And, in general, things that in an early time would have earned me an honored place as the weather shaman.

Just to share a classic example that happened recently. I was having lunch with a friend on a sunny spring day. There was no rain in the forecast, yet I told her it was going to rain soon. She laughed and said I crazy. Then while the sun was still out it started raining for about 10 minutes lightly before stopping again. (I decided to not perform my “I’m Right and You’re Wrong Dance” then….)

Now what was interesting to me was the recommended treatment was not herbs but adjusting my diet according to my constitution which is Vata-Pitta. I’m not going to go into the details here of doshas because there are plenty of resources on line about it but you can think about it as wind and fire. I was told that both my Vata was very unbalanced and my Pitta was as well, but we’d start on working on balancing the Vata. And I was given a list of foods to favor and foods to avoid and told to experiment for a month.

In my first couple of weeks, I’ve actually noticed some interesting changes. My dreams kicked into overdrive, my sleep changed for the better and most interestingly I was surprised by two rainstorms. I haven’t been surprised by a rainstorm EVER. I’m not saying everything is perfect given that I’m only a couple of weeks into this and merely by favoring certain vegetables, grains, etc. over other ones I’m noticing such a change is completely fascinating and something that should be and obvious extension from my herbalism studies but somehow seems to be ignored.

When diet is wrong medicine is of no use.
When diet is correct medicine is of no need.
~Ayurvedic Proverb

In herbalism, we often talk about energetics of people and energetics of medicinal plants. (Is it cooling, heating, etc.) But rarely diet and when I’ve seen dietary discussion it is often around the axis of Paleos, Raw food and/or Vegetarian/Vegans. But not in terms of the energetics of food plants – which is interesting because given the relative quantities of food plants we ingest weekly versus any amount of medicinal tinctures, teas, etc. – thus the effects of their energetics would be profound.

On one level it is a tribute to medicinal plants that they can have such a powerful effect despite that. On another level I believe we do a disservice to people in ignoring diet and the energetics of food plants in terms of how they affect health.

I’m not necessarily implying a strict adoption of the systems of Ayurveda, or Traditional Chinese Medicine, in looking at foods. And even within those systems (just as in Western Herbalism assessments of medicinal plants) there are different schools and interpretations of how things get categorized energetically. But it is worth thinking about more and exploring how to include thinking about food, diet and attitudes about food as well.

Food for thought so to speak…

References of Note:

    • Prakriti: Your Ayurvedic Constitution by Robert Svoboda. Which made for an excellent overview and I particularly liked how it looks at emotional, physical, psychological and energetics of you and food and how they work together. What it lacks is how to truly put it into practice but it is really not intended for that purpose but more of a philosophic overview and it does that well enough.
    • Ayurveda: A Life of Balance by Maya Tiwari. A more substantial examination of the theory, foods and includes recipes. Much of her discussions of food, preparation of food and how to maintain your kitchen and your life for harmonious health are incredibly beautiful and inspirational. And overall, most of it is highly unlikely to be incorporated into most people’s daily lives – certainly not mine. But it can be a nice touchstone to remind you when your inner compass has gone askew because of the pulls of normal Western living. One of the things I really liked about the book was how the charts looking at the energetics of food according to your Dosha were broken down into the categories of Major (most helpful), Minor (less helpful but still helpful) and Regressive. Which I think works better than the chart I was initially given saying merely favor or avoid – a little too binary for me.
    • The Ayurvedic Cookbook by Amadea Morningstar. Briefer theory section than the other two because it is primarily a cookbook (in case the title didn’t clue you in.) I found the charts and symbol system less useful and less intuitive than Tiwari’s book but still a good resource as well.

I’ll certainly be reading, studying and learning more over time…

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Spirits Away – Plants and Your Spiritual Self

Posted on July 2, 2012. Filed under: Healing, Spiritual Practice | Tags: , , |

I have to admit that I’ve been dithering about this post for a while, which is why I took longer to post it – wow a whole week later (of course it has also been busy lately which is another reason!)


Because it has some serious Woo Woo. How serious?

Janice from the Muppets

About Seven and a half Janices. 🙂

So let’s dive in…..I’ve been thinking about the ways I use plants spiritually. Sure we talk a lot of about the physical healing properties of the plants and sometimes the emotional ones especially with flower essences. But I was thinking more specific about spiritual support and healing.

Mind you, there can be a very fine line between spiritual and emotional which I’ll cross, erase and ignore it as needed. 😉

Some of the classic ways plants have been used along these lines include:

  • Burning as incense or resins to create opening to spirit, invoke spirit – i.e. Copal, Myrrh, Frankincense, sandalwood etc.
  • Cleansing spaces and self as in smudging – i.e. Sage, Cedar, Lavender, etc.
  • Using smoke or ingesting and food/tea to alter consciousness

All of which are good general tools but I was thinking of, and tend to work with them, in different ways as well.

For example here are a couple of my favorite herbs spiritually and how I like to work with them.

Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) is, amongst its other uses, a classic cleansing plant ally with its strong anti-microbial and anti-parasitic properties. Those are primarily its physical effects, but I also see it as being able to operate on another level.


I often use it singularly, and in formulas, for spiritual/emotional cleansing and helping to remove toxic energies. Sometimes when I’m feeling a vague malaise or blockage along those lines, I will use it to help pinpoint the problem. Where I drink a strong infusion of it and lie down and observe where it seems to be concentrating the most. And those areas are the ones I need work more on energetically.

Another plant I turn to a lot spiritually is Lavender.


I find it as particularly powerful for healing and strengthening weakened areas spiritually or energetically. I’ve often used it in a 1-2 punch formula with Wormwood. Where I use Wormwood to cleanse and Lavender to heal and rebuild, which I’ve found a very potent combination when I’m in need.

Those are just two strong examples in my own life (I’ll also give an honorable mention to Hawthorn which I often use for heart and heart chakra spiritual and emotional work.) Any number of herbs can work very effectively depending on your own affinities and plant allies that work best with you.

If you have a main plant ally (plant you work with particularly well or closely) that might be a good place to start. Or see what calls to you or look for physical healing actions that can parallel the ones you look for spiritually, emotionally and energetically.  Then experiment with how they might work energetically for spiritual work as well.

There are a number of techniques you can use work with plants on a spiritual level for healing instead of just physical, but for me I find simply asking them for help and taking the time to be present with them is most powerful and direct.

In other words, don’t just take them and go about your day. Pause, reflect and be. Doing that is really some of the greatest spiritual healing magic in itself!

I think I kept that just below 8 Janices…

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