Explore the world of herbalism and how to use plant-based medicine to improve wellness in Robin Rose Bennett’s book The Gift of Healing Herbs (North Atlantic Books, 2014). In this excerpt, from chapter 10 “The Nervous System,” Bennett discusses how to handle grief with the help of herbal preparations.
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Hearts get broken. They always have, and they always will. The only heart that can’t be broken is the heart that is already completely open. We are often told we have to “just let it go,” whatever “it” is.
While you can let experiences settle to the back of your mind and heart instead of the forefront, what has happened has happened. What you’ve seen, you’ve seen. To where can you let it go? These painful events are part of you, part of what makes you who you are. Experiences that hurt so badly when you’re going through them ultimately awaken your compassion and foster the deepest healing and reconnection.
You can consciously partner with an herb using a specific intent to reconnect to and open your heart, to remember how to put love first. I counsel people who have been trying to let go and yet feel totally stuck, that the task is not to let go but to allow their own heart to expand in order to hold the pain and not be engulfed by it—to metaphorically grow the heart so that the pain can be there, held in their love, which is so much greater than they can imagine.
I realize this is not easy. It requires courage, clear intention, and support. It asks for your willingness to release attachment to your story, to your interpretation of events. Along with this flexibility of mind, it requires clear seeing, which is to simply see what is without blame. Some of my favorite herbal allies for heartbreak and heartache, shock and grief are: lavender, rose, hawthorn, motherwort, linden and violet.
Other supportive herbal allies are sassafras, burdock, nettles and holy basil. I also like chamomile, mimosa and cherry blossoms. Soothing nervines that are helpful to get to know are California poppy, skullcap, orange blossoms and oatstraw. Flower essences play a part here, too, as do herbs that match a specific individual in a specific situation. Always use the best herb available rather than none at all when there is an immediate need. Very often even one herb is enough to be comforting, grounding and/or uplifting. You could go to your kitchen cupboard and make a cup of thyme or basil tea and benefit immediately and tangibly from the physical, mental and emotional tension-relieving qualities of these plants.
Nervous System-Healing Herbs
Borage: Gladdens the heart and mind; courage
Burdock: Deep-rootedness, grounding, centering in self/body/Earth; trust when one has lost one’s mooring; works well with dandelion
California poppy: Helps sleep, soothes pain, relaxes physical tension
Dandelion: Helps release anger, dispel fear of darkness, brings light
Hawthorn berries, flowers, leaves and thorns: Heals the heart on every level; lifts spirits; helps claim body as sacred space
Holy basil: Clears vision, helps you adapt to change
Indian pipe: For physical pain; death medicine to help someone accept crossing over; in life, opens you to dance across the dimensional divide
Lavender: Eases heartbreak; adds sweetness, reassurance
Linden: Grief-relief after death or divorce; expands perception of multidimensional magic
Motherwort: Comforting, calming, strengthening; brings courage; works well with skullcap for shock
Nettle: Strength; healthy, respectful boundaries; helps express anger; electrical reconnection, rewiring personal power grid
Oatstraw: Grace and flexibility; soothes heart tension that’s been taken in physically
Oat tops: Eases depression and withdrawal symptoms
Orange blossoms: Sensual soother; re-awakens sexuality and desire; warms up a cool libido in both women and men
Rose: Healing after betrayal or death of beloved; helps you to see and respect others’ perspectives
Sassafras: Spirit-lifting, joy-inducing; brings lightness and laughter
Skullcap: Profoundly soothing, nourishing, restorative, and sedating
Violet: Helps you see the sweetness in another; eases grief, releases anger
Herbal Preparations for Grief
Heal My Heart and Give Me Strength Blend
I called a dear old friend of mine, and her normally joyful voice sounded odd, a little strangled. It turned out that two people she loved very much had died in recent weeks; one death had been expected, and one hadn’t.
She was still in shock, and pulling her energy back into herself for healing. She’d always been giving of herself, and now needed to take time to give to herself. She was ready. She told me about the healing brew she put together.
• Dried holy basil leaves
• Dried hawthorn berries
• Dried skullcap
• Dried nettles
• Pinch of fresh spearmint
• Borage flower essence
Calm Those Frazzled Nerves Tincture Blend—Variation I
Use this blend whenever you like, but especially when life has given you more than you think you can handle. Remember that it never does, no matter how it feels in the moment. Life is wise than that.
• 1 teaspoon (or 3 parts) violet leave tincture
• 2 droppers full (or 1 part) skullcap leaf and flower tincture
• 1 dropper full (or 1/2 part) California poppy tincture
I add this tincture blend to hot water to make a soothing, sedating nervine recipe.
You can also make an overnight violet leaf infusion and add the skullcap and California poppy tinctures. Another method is to make skullcap tea (steeped for 30 minutes) and add the other two herbs as tinctures.
Calm Those Frazzled Nerves Tincture Blend—Variation II
Call on this blend when your nerve endings are raw and frazzled from grieving or seething, when they’ve been fried and short-circuited with shock and/or anger, or you can’t stop thinking and you’re not sleeping well.
• 1 part St. John’s wort tincture
• 1/2 part skullcap tincture
• 1/4 part California poppy tincture
Mix these tinctures into hot water. It is very effective for helping anyone frazzled. If giving it to a distressed child or an elder start with small amounts, such as 5 drops of St. John’s, 2 drops of skullcap, and one drop of California poppy. You can always increase them. Sometimes you need to increase or decrease the amounts bit by bit to find the right dosage for yourself. The range of what is acceptable is broad. An example of a large but still safe dosage is up to a teaspoon of St. John’s—roughly 125 drops—and 1/2 teaspoon of skullcap (though with skullcap, smaller quantities are usually more sedative than large ones), and 1/2 teaspoon of California poppy (here the higher quantity is potentially more sedative).
Soothe Me Infusion
This blend will help a person to rest and sleep. It builds the nervous system even as it soothes and calms. It isn’t a recipe to use forever—just for when it’s truly needed. It’s a lovely helper when called for.
• 1 cup dried violet leaves
• 1 cup dried oatstraw
• 1/2 cup dried hawthorn berries and/or leaves and flowers
Bring oatstraw to boil in half gallon of water and pour over the rest of the herbs. Allow this blend to steep overnight on your counter. In the morning, squeeze out the herbs and heat the infusion and put it into a stainless steel or glass insert thermos to drink throughout the day.
This is a good recipe for shock and/or grief that results in a lot of physical tension, tightness, and agitation, with or without crying. It will help relax the mind and the muscles, nourish and soothe the nerves, and aid circulation and oxygenation to help the heart.
• 1 cup dried linden blossoms
• 1 cup dried violet leaves
• 1/2 cup dried hawthorn berries and/or flowers and leaves
Pour 1/2 gallon of boiled water over these herbs in a half-gallon jar. Fill it to the top, as full as possible, then cap it. Let it steep overnight, and then decant. Refrigerate, or heat and put in a thermos.
NOTE: Linden (Tilia americana and other species) is not only a popular wildflower for making honey, but is a “honey” of a tree. Linden opens the emotional and spiritual heart even as it improves cardiovascular circulation. If you are willing, linden helps you dance with current grief and clear our old, “stuck” grief. Linden has a divinely inspired way of opening you to the bliss of your true multidimensional nature—the larger reality we’re all part of.
Linden Blossom Bath
This luscious mixture is a perfect infusion to celebrate life and love when your heart is happy, or to help you heal when your heart is aching or broken, or when you’ve just soured on life in general. It is mood-altering, like a good glass of red wine. Taken over time, it is a transformative blend.
This tart yet sweet aromatic recipe is one you can count on to help you heal when you are grieving, even if you have turned inward, isolating yourself physically and/or emotionally and psychically. These plants have a way of helping you be with your feelings. When you allow your feelings space simply to be what they are, you can and will heal.
Taking a linden blossom bath is a particularly magical way to experience the linden tree’s special medicine.
• 2 to 3 cups dried linden blossoms
Pour boiling water over the herbs in a half-gallon jar. Cap tightly and let sit 1-2 hours. Pour the liquid through a good strainer and add it to a bathtub filled with hot water.
Then pour another half-gallon of boiling water over the herbs in the jar, and let that sit overnight to drink the next day (cool or reheated). Refrigerate the remainder after that.
Adapted from The Gift of Healing Herbs by Robin Rose Bennett, published by North Atlantic Books, copyright (c) 2014 by Robin Rose Bennett. Reprinted by permission of publisher. It may not be reproduced for any other use without permission. Purchase this book from our store: The Gift of Healing Herbs.