When looking at herbal approaches to stress relief, the adrenal glands and the nervous system are the primary systems to support.


The adrenal glands are located on top of the kidneys and produce some hormones, including the “fight or flight” hormones epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine (noradrenaline), and the stress hormone cortisol. The adrenal glands become overworked (this is a simplified explanation, of course) when we are under prolonged periods of stress because, evolutionarily speaking, these hormones are only supposed to be produced for short periods in response to a threat.


Adaptogens – a category of herbs that help with stress adaptation and recovery.


These herbs act to help the body “adapt to stress”, of all kinds. They work generally in some way by supporting the adrenal glands and acting on the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (H-P-A) pathway from the brain. They need to be taken over a period of time for the best effect, and can support energy levels, physical and mental stamina, athletic performance, and much more.

Here are some of my favorites and some unique features of each:


Eleuthero (Siberian ginseng)- used as a general “adaptogen” to help with stress, help with energy and stamina, and strengthen the immune system.
Schisandra – called the “five flavor herb” in Chinese medicine, this berry is used for helping the body adapt to stress, supporting thyroid, liver, and heart function, helping with increasing energy and stamina, and balancing the mood.
Ashwagandha– used as a general “adaptogen” to help with stress, relax the body, calm the nervous system, and also can help with energy, hormone balance, libido, and thyroid function.
Rhodiola– used to help uplift the mood, increase energy and stamina, and to help fight mental fatigue and increase focus and retention of information.
Licorice – helps “spare” cortisol in the body, so can be helpful for low cortisol levels and fatigue. Also is a good anti-inflammatory and liver protective.
Holy basil – helpful for mood balance, anxiety that effects the digestive tract, and overall supporting calm and well-being.
Reishi mushroom– used long-term for stress and a feeling of well-being, strengthening the immune system, acting as an antiviral and anti-tumor.

*There are many options of blends of these herbs, including our Stress Drops, Stress Adaptation Tea, Energy & Metabolism Drops, and capsule blends. We also have single herb powders of many of these to add to smoothies, food, chocolate, etc., as well as single cut herbs for tea, single tinctures or glycerites, and single capsules. Take whatever form you will take consistently!

These herbs are generally very safe to use and need to be taken consistently for 1-3 months to notice a lasting effect. I always remind people that it took months or years to get them to the fatigued, stressed, low-immune state they are in today, so to give these herbs some time to work.


Nervines – herb that support the nervous system.


These herbs are used to calm or uplift the nervous system. Stress often leaves us feeling depleted or anxious, so the nervous system needs strengthening and nourishing, and often calming or soothing. If you feel “on edge,” many herbs can help.


Nourishing nervines include lemon balm, skullcap, oat pods, chamomile, linden flowers, St. John’s wort, motherwort, and passionflower.
*Herban Wellness makes a Chill Out Tea and Chill Out Drops to calm and help with anxiety and tension.


Uplifting nervines include holy basil, lemon balm, damiana, St. John’s wort, and mimosa bark. Take one or a blend of herbs in a tea form to have the added benefit of enjoying a hot beverage to soothe your frayed nerves.
*Herban Wellness makes a Happy Tea and Happy Drops to help uplift the nervous system. We also make a blend called Heart Mender Drops for more situational depression and grief.


More sedative herbs for help with sleep include valerian root, hops, passionflower (in higher amounts), California poppy, nutmeg, and skullcap (in higher amounts).
*Herban Wellness makes a Get Sleepy Tea and a Sleep Well Drops with these herbs. We also carry a capsule blend called Sleep Thru that helps calm excess cortisol at night to help with deeper, longer sleep.


Essential Oils


Because the tiny little volatile compounds from aromatic plants cross so easily into the brain, inhaling or applying them can have a profound impact on our nervous system – calming, uplifting, and balancing.


Oils such as Bergamot, Spruce, Frankincense, Vetiver, Sandalwood, Lavender, and Roman chamomile, can relax the body, calm the mind and nervous system, and generally lead to a greater sense of well-being, even if temporarily.


Bergamot – balancing to mood and the right and left hemispheres of the brain. Apply in the upper divet of your ear and inhale deeply for a stress-relieving and balancing effect (shen men point in Chinese medicine).
Vetiver – extremely grounding and earthy, so can help you feel more rooted and helps calm your nervous system. Apply to the bottoms/arch of your feet for helping relax and promote restful sleep.
Roman chamomile – very calming to your nervous system, this oil is also antispasmodic so is useful for headaches, muscle tension, and general stress.
Oils such as Spruce & Frankincense can also strengthen weakness in the body and heighten energy levels. In fact, many of the conifers, such as Black Spruce and Siberian Fir are considered adrenal support oils that balance the H-P-A axis and increase energy reserves.
*Blends we carry that can be helpful and incorporate these essential oils include Stress Release, Calm Spirit, Adrenal Support, and Meditation.


Flower Essences


Because of how these energetic formulations are prepared intentionally from fresh flower buds, they capture the more subtle energies of the plant. These remedies are taken in drop doses under the tongue or in water to help support our more subtle systems – emotions and spirit. I have found these work best when you set an intention with them.


Five Flower Formula (also called Rescue Remedy by another brand) – acute stress or trauma
Pink Yarrow – for emotional boundaries when you’re overly absorbent of others’ energies and emotions
Aspen – fear of the unknown, vague anxiety and apprehension, nightmares
Mimulus – fear of known things, apprehension toward new experiences
White chestnut – overactive mind, circling thoughts, insomnia as a result
Mustard – depression or despair due to fluctuating life events; bouts of mania followed by depression.

When wandering through the parks and gardens around Kirkland and the whole Seattle area, you will likely see these plants in the early spring onward, if you know what to look for. Maybe you are fortunate enough to have them growing in your own yard or garden. Make sure to properly identify the plants, find a relatively clean patch and rinse the plants well before eating fresh/raw if they’re not from your own garden. With Nettle (aka Stinging Nettle), you’ll need to use gloves to harvest.
Chickweed – the whole upper parts are used of this low-growing plant that loves moist, cool weather. High in minerals like iron and calcium, chickweed is also high in purifying chlorophyll. Chop and add to salads, juice it, or make a long infusion by soaking in cold water for 4-8 hours and drinking as a tea. Topically, this plant is a soothing, anti-inflammatory, and antipruretic (anti-itch) skin herb.  It can be applied as cooling poultice, or infused in oil (such as olive oil) and applied or made into a salve. Internally, the fresh plant tincture can help with water retention and weight loss as the minerals and chlorophyll can help with boosting metabolism.

Cleavers – the upper parts are used before flowering of this sprawling, sticky plant with its unique whorled leaf pattern. This plant is mineral rich, high in chlorophyll, and acts as a diuretic (increases urinary flow through the kidneys) and lymphagogue (helps move lymphatic fluid). This makes it a great spring tonic, good for skin and kidney health, and for supporting the lymphatic system and lessening water retention.

Dandelion leaf – The young leaves are used in the spring as a great spring tonic. They are bitter in taste and are a classic liver tonic and detoxifier, as well as a bitter digestive tonic to stimulate the flow of digestive juices. The leaves are also a strong diuretic, helping to move fluid through the kidneys and reduce water retention and swelling.  The leaves are great eaten fresh in the spring in salads and are high in potassium among other minerals, so doesn’t deplete the body of this important mineral when used as a diuretic.

 

 

Nettle leaf – Urtica dioica, commonly called nettle or stinging nettle grows naturally in the Pacific Northwest. The leaves and stem are covered in tiny hairs that contain formic acid, which is irritating to the skin if touched. This uncomfortable property dissipates when the plant is dried and crushed, and disappears when cooked. The leaf is high in minerals like iron, calcium, and magnesium, as well as chlorophyll. The leaf is most commonly used, but the root and seed both have medicinal properties. The leaf helps reduce allergy symptoms by lowering histamine release, so is great to consume this time of year. I like to recommend its consumption as an herbal tea, ideally made into a long infusion by steeping cold or hot for 4-8 hours. It can also be added to food or smoothies as a powder. When harvested fresh, it can be added to any cooked dish that calls for spinach or other leafy green.

 

The Kidneys – We have two of these important organs, sitting up just under the rib cage in the back. They filter the blood, inorganic salts, and toxic waste products of metabolism, maintain mineral and pH balance in the blood, and help control blood pressure by regulating the volume of water in the blood. They also release hormones to control blood pressure and control the production of red blood cells. Thus, these organs play an important role in detoxification of the body among other things. In addition, the important stress-response glands, our Adrenal Glands, sit atop the kidneys.

The Urinary Tract – this system consists of the kidneys, ureters (tubes that travel to the bladder), the bladder, and the urethra (tube that moves urine out of the bladder).

Tonic Herbs for this system, include herbs that over time support the health of the urinary tract, reducing inflammation, soothing, and even helping with regeneration of cells and healing tissue. Herbs such as Nettle (leaf and seed), Pellitory-of-the-Wall, Astragalus root, Milk thistle seed, Dan Shen (Red Sage or Salvia miltiorrhiza), Goldenrod, and Couchgrass are tonic, restorative herbs for the kidneys specifically, and the urinary tract generally.

Soothing herbs such as Corn silk, Couch grass, and Marshmallow root, can be used when there is any sort of irritation of the urinary system, and to help reduce inflammation in the case of urinary stones, infection, or chemical damage (certain pharmaceutical medications or heavy metals, for example). These herbs contain compounds that get excreted via the urinary tract, soothing and healing while passing through.

Herbs to help with water retention and flow through the kidneys and urinary system are known as diuretics. One of the strongest is Dandelion leaf, which is also naturally high in potassium, so can offset excess loss of potassium as some pharmaceutical diuretics can promote. Others include Goldenrod, Hibiscus, Cleavers, Buchu, Parsley leaf and root, Celery seed, and Uva ursi. These herbs can help with lowering pressure in the blood vessels so are often included in formulas for high blood pressure.

Other herbs can help treat and prevent kidney stones, such as Hydrangea root, Gravel root, and Chanca piedra (Phyllanthus spp.). The first step in preventing kidney stones is drinking enough water preventing dehydration, particularly in hot weather where there is increased sweating. The vast majority of kidney stones contain calcium – calcium oxalate and calcium phosphate, while sometimes uric acid stones can form. For calcium-based stones, people should avoid oxalate-rich foods such as spinach, rhubarb, beets, and chocolate. Magnesium can help keep calcium soluble in the urine so it doesn’t react with oxalic acids and form stones, so taking a Magnesium supplement can be helpful. For uric acid-based stones, alkalinizing water and foods such as green vegetables need to be increased and animal protein should be minimized since protein tends to increase levels of uric acid.

There are also some effective herbs to prevent infection by preventing bacteria from adhering to the mucosal lining, such as the well-known cranberry, uva ursi leaves (in the same family), and buchu. Other herbs are effective at inhibiting bacteria and fungus and can take care of an infection if caught early on. These herbs contains compounds that are highly antimicrobial that excrete through the urinary tract. Juniper berry is one of the best in this regard, as it is also diuretic and anti-inflammatory. Buchu, uva ursi, Echinacea, and Goldenseal are others that have antimicrobial properties specific to the urinary tract and support the immune system.

The Emotion: Fear & Element: Water associated with the kidneys and bladder from the Five Element Theory in Traditional Chinese Medicine. “The Kidney is the repository of energy for the body, supplying needed Qi to all the organs when necessary. Getting enough rest is essential for helping to maintain Kidney energy balance. The Five Element emotion associated with the Kidney is fear. Fear is a deep-seated emotion, central (realized or not) to much of existence as it is dictated through thought and action. Fear, when welcomed and addressed with discernment, can become a strength in the affairs of your daily life. Be aware. Be calm. Rest.” (from the Arizona School or Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine, ASAOM).

The Adrenal Glands and the Kidneys – How you care for yourself, and manage stress and fear, have an impact on both the kidneys (nourishment, water, rest) and your adrenal glands (the stress response, fight or flight). Some herbs and mushrooms support both, and the HPA Axis (Hypothalamus-Pituitary Gland-Adrenal Gland Axis), such as Astragalus root and Cordyceps mushroom. Other adaptogens (herbs that support the HPA Axis and adrenal glands) can be combined with kidney tonic herbs for helping the body respond differently to life and fear, including Codonopsis, American ginseng, and Eleuthero.

It’s that time of year, when the flowers are opening all around us, spring greens sprout up in our woods and gardens, the weather gets more mild, and for some, the allergy symptoms begin, or come on full force. Fortunately there are some great tools in the natural world for helping alleviate these uncomfortable symptoms so you can enjoy springtime more. Below, you’ll find my recipe for a ginger-nettle-lemon spring tonic that can be made hot, or cold with sparkling water.

Ginger tea or fresh juice – approximately 1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh ginger (or 1 heaping tsp dry) or approximately 1 Tbsp of fresh juice.
Lemon juice, preferably freshly-squeezed – approximately 1/2 lemon or more to taste.

Raw local honey – approx 1-2 tsp to taste
Nettle Glycerite – 2 dropperfuls (approximately 50 drops)
Oregon grape Glycerite – 1 dropperful (approximately 25 drops)

If making tea, gently simmer fresh or dry ginger root in 2 cups of water with lid on for 10 mins, then strain. Add honey, lemon juice, and herbal glycerites to a mug of the ginger tea and drink warm. Or, the tea can be cooled to room temperature and other ingredients added. A large batch can be made and stored in the refrigerator for daily consumption also.

If using ginger juice, you can add all ingredients to 8-12 oz of hot or sparkling water and mix well.

Drink 2-3 cups daily to help stave off allergy symptoms.

Helpful benefits of these ingredients:

Ginger root – anti-inflammatory and supportive for the immune system as the oils in the root contain some antimicrobial benefits. Also a wonderful digestive system support herb.

Raw local honey – high in minerals and some flower pollens that can help the body not be so reactive to pollen that is inhaled.

Lemon juice – high in vitamin C, flavonoids, and supports gentle liver detoxifcation.

Nettle leaf – alkaline, high in minerals, and has antihistamine properties that can help prevent and ease allergy symptoms.

Oregon grape root – bitter digestive aid, containing berberine that can help reduce inflammation and swelling in the sinuses and mucosal membranes.

Liquid extracts, often called “tinctures,” are a convenient and effective way to take herbal remedies.

Alcohol is the most oft-used medium to extract, as it is effective in various percentages in pulling out a variety of water-soluble and fat-soluble constituents from the plant, as well as being a powerful preservative. However, there are instances where alcohol is not desirable, either because of its pungent taste or not being appropriate for a certain population. For that, we do have the option for some herbs to be consumed as a “glycerite,” a vegetable-glycerine extracted tincture.

Vegetable glycerine is the clear, sweet, viscous liquid that is a bi-product of the soap-making industry, and due to its chemical make-up does extract an array of water-soluble constituents, and some fat-soluble constituents as well. Because of their sweet taste, these glycerites can be administered straight to pets by squeezing into their mouth, or given to children either straight or in a bit of liquid. It is often a way to add sweetness to an herbal blend, and some herbs taste quite delicious as a glycerite.

For example, in the pictures above, the pink liquid is Rose Glycerite, and it captures the floral nature of rose petals perfectly. Mixed in blends to add a floral note, or for supporting the emotional heart in times of grief or sadness, this glycerite is a favorite of our herbalists here at Herban Wellness. The bottle with the dark red liquid contains Schisandra Glycerite, which is one of my absolute favorite herbs in this form. Schisandra berry is called the “five flavor fruit” because of its complex flavor profile of sour, pungent, bitter, salty, and sweet, and it has an adaptogenic effect on the adrenal glands and the stress response, making it a valuable ally for stress relief, recovery, and for energy levels. The sweetness of the vegetable glycerine makes this berry much more palatable, and downright tasty, even when consumed by itself directly in the mouth.

Other herbs pictured in their glycerite form above are Lemon balm, which makes a sweet, slightly lemony, slightly herbaceous liquid for calming the nervous system and is often used in formulas for children to help calm or relax. Nettle Glycerite is a green, herbaceous extract that can help soothe allergy symptoms due to its anti-inflammatory and antihistamine effects. So this glycerite is nice added to tea, juice, a tonic, or smoothie for its effects. Ginger Glycerite is the golden-yellow liquid above, and is delicious added to sparkling water or lemon water while on the go for its anti-nausea, stomach calming, and anti-inflammatory properties.

We have created a couple glycerite blends that are entirely alcohol-free for children, that can also be used by adults that don’t want to take alcohol. We can also customize fully alcohol-free blends, even though our selection of glycerites is lower than that of alcohol-tinctures. The reason for this is that many plants do not extract as well in vegetable glycerine. However, we can work with you to find what will work best if it is your desire to avoid alcohol entirely. We also regularly create herbal blends for a specific reason using a combination of glycerites and tinctures, for flavor and potency.

Abby the Shop Dog at Herban Wellness

Many of you know my dog Abby or have seen her when you’ve come into Herban Wellness. I have taken her to a holistic/natural veterinarian since day one, because I apply the same principles to my animal companion as I do to myself. Start with the foundations: healthy diet, exercise, minimal exposure to toxins. Then I move to support from nutritional and herbal additions when needed. Finally, I only use pharmaceutical or surgical interventions when absolutely necessary.

I have incorporated herbal remedies into Abby’s routine as needed for flea treatment and prevention, for minerals and skin health, for calming her (or attempting to) when she’s anxious during a storm or fireworks, and in the last few years, anti-inflammatory and joint support as she gets up in years. I have also helped other dog and cat parents (and horse caregivers also!) find appropriate herbal remedies for supporting organs such as the liver, kidneys, and adrenal glands. Herbs can help greatly with seasonal and skin allergies, skin inflammation and irritations, and other chronic issues you may find your pet facing.

Now, I often do say how I am more comfortable in using herbs with dogs because they have less sensitive systems overall than cats, and also they are easier in general to administer natural remedies to. I have no qualms forcing a couple of milliliters of herbal tincture/glycerite into Abby’s mouth for acute situation, like when she somehow contracted kennel cough one winter. She was completely healthy in one week, which even her holistic vet was quite impressed with. I gave her lung, cough, and immune herbs that I would use for humans, and I got them in her several times a day. I also can easily disguise herbal and nutritional powders and tinctures in her food.

When choosing herbs for dogs, cats, and horses, I always check my herbal pet resources to make sure the herbs I’m considering can be safely used. My favorite quick-reference guides are by a holistic veterinarian who practiced for decades and wrote two books: Herbal Cat Care and Herbal Dog Care, respectively, by Dr. Randy Kidd, and The Encyclopedia of Natural Pet Care by CJ Puotinen. These generally give guidance on dosing as well, since that’s important and is generally determined by the weight of the animal when it comes to dogs and cats. Liquid extracts are easy to dose by the drop, where powders can be added by the part of a teaspoon. Some people also make herbal teas and mix them with the food.

Some of my favorite herbs for pets:

Turmeric – yep, a good anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and antioxidant, just like for humans. Quantity ranges from 1/8 – 1 tsp per day for the powder and 10-30 drops for the tincture.

Kelp – mineral-rich and nutritive, this sea plant is beneficial for skin and fur health, and is generally added to food anywhere from 1/8 – ½ tsp of powder.

Alfalfa – high in minerals and chlorophyll, this herb is also used for reducing overall inflammation in dogs and cats, 1/8 – 1 tsp/day of powder.

Nettle leaf – high in minerals and chlorophyll and supportive to kidney and urinary tract health, ¼-1 tsp/day or 5-30 drops for the tincture or glycerite.

Chamomile – calming and soothing to the nervous system, while anti-inflammatory to the GI. Give 5-30 drops of the tincture or glycerite. Or ¼-1/2 cup chamomile tea.

Burdock root – helps gently detoxify the system and is particularly useful for skin issues and for healthy digestive and liver function. 1/8 – 1/2 tsp of the powder or 5-30 drops of the tincture.

Neem leaf – excellent for the health of the skin, as well as being an antifungal and antibacterial, and a flea preventive internally as well as topically. 1/8 – 1/2 tsp of the powder twice/day.

Sustainable. Sustainability. These words have become synonymous with a descriptor for someone (a person) or something (a business) that is actively striving to be sensitive to the needs of the environment, although the word is clearly used in other contexts as well. Dictionary.com defines the word as an adjective in its secondary definition as: “the quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources, and thereby supporting long-term ecological balance.” Sustainability, as an adverb, is defined the same.

Personally, the concept of environmental stewardship and striving to incorporate environmentally sustainable practices into my life and business is an important value and action in my life. Professionally, as an Herbalist and someone who uses herbal medicine and healthful food to support my body’s health, sustainable farming practices and sustainable harvesting of wild plants, is of critical importance. In fact, I was originally drawn to herbal medicine, because of my deep love and respect for this planet Earth and her wondrous and abundant plant life and landscapes. Much of this has arisen from the feeling I get when I am immersed in nature, and how much joy and calm I experience when in nature, whether it be a city park, sitting in my yard, or deep in the wilderness where not a human-made sound can be heard. Inherently, by consuming plants for their healing properties, we are connecting to the Earth herself.

Many people do not consider how trends and popularity of certain herbs and plants can dramatically effect the harvesting of them in the wild, potentially wiping out native populations, or dramatically reducing their numbers. Examples include Echinacea, which is a prairie plant and whose population has been dramatically reduced in the wild. Goldenseal root is a major one, because it is more difficult to grow in cultivation, and its price as a result is quite high. Many herbs are also not grown in an environmentally aware manner, and just like food crops, can be grown in poor or contaminated soils, watered with contaminated water (heavy metals and the like), and grown using chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. These practices are not sustainable, because the soil and chemicals can be drawn up into the plant and taken up by the consumer’s body, not to mention further adding to the chemical load in ground water and streams.

As a result of my commitment to sustainability in my own life and in my business, I choose to only purchase “organically-grown” or “sustainably wild-harvested” dried whole and powdered herbs, tinctured herbs, essential oils, hydrosols, and carrier oils from my vendors. It goes beyond that, of course, because quality of the plant material matters significantly as well, but that is for another article. I am working on buying more of my herbs from growers/farmers I personally know and can see for myself the practices they are using, and of course, I see the quality of the dried herb material that I receive.

In other vendor practices, I choose to purchase from suppliers that are local (less shipping) as much as I can, use sustainable and/or organic growing or sourcing practices themselves, and I have brought in products that promote re-use and can replace disposable products, like sustainably-grown bamboo utensils, stainless steel tea ware (to promote loose-leaf instead of tea bags and boxes which are just that much extra packaging), glass smoothie jars, to-go tea mugs, and bamboo essential oil wipes that are not individually wrapped.

In addition, I also package our tea blends in cellophane bags made from plant cellulose rather than plastic, and tie them with raffia ribbon, both of which will break down when composted in a city compost and will eventually break down (hopefully) in a landfill. We offer paper bags for packaging up your bulk herbs, and are happy to fill your own glass or metal containers that you bring in with you. I choose to use natural cleaners in my shop and home, those that will not negatively impact my health or my dog’s (many of you know Abby!), my staff, and of course my customers when they breathe the air. These products are safe to rinse down the drain and also do not do harm when inhaled, or when absorbed through Abby’s paws or human bare feet at home. I also purchase paper products that are made from post-consumer recycled paper (including our printing paper, paper towels, and even toilet paper). I use long-lasted LED light bulbs at Herban Wellness to reduce power use, and recycle these light bulbs and any batteries we use. We almost exclusively re-use packaging for our own direct shipments to customers, pass on our packing peanuts to other shipping businesses so they get used at least once more, and most of our vendors use the corn-derived packing peanuts that will dissolve when exposed to water. We also collect any used and clean plastic bags, plastic packing bubble mailers, and styrofoam packaging we receive and take it every other month to a special recycling event in Kirkland (“Styrofest”).

I am always looking for more ways to contribute less to waste, especially of plastic. Recently, I saw Office Depot was offering Scotch tape rolls that were made partially from post-consumer plastic. Hey, that’s a small step, but appreciated! We also use any scrap paper exclusively to take notes, outside of our own personal notebooks for formulas or communication between staff members, instead of sticky notes or other “new” paper products. And of course, we separate and clean our recycling, and I also personally take buckets of composted food and tea waste home to put in my Yard Waste bin. I have requested a compost bin at my commercial building, and the city of Kirkland complied for free, but people kept putting trash in it, so it ended up not working well.

Hopefully this list will help you better understand how we strive to be environmentally sustainable in our practices at Herban Wellness. I am always striving to do more! If you have any suggestions, please do let me know and if it is feasible, I would love to uplevel our practices. I also hope that perhaps you will be inspired by this list of our practices, that occur behind the scene, but are a small part of the way we contribute to a healthier planet, that at this point, needs every little bit it can get.

Looking up at Ponderosa Pine and Douglas Fir trees.

I’m sure we’ve all felt the power of trees. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we are surrounded by an abundance of them. Sometimes we are in awe of their sheer size and height, other times it’s the sound of the wind through their leaves or needles, or the scent of their resins or aromatic terpenes released from their needles, the grounding smell of earth and woods amidst the forests.

Knowing that trees essentially inhale carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen is a benefit of sharing space around trees and plants of all kinds as well. We breathe in as they breathe out, and our lungs and bodies benefit. In addition, if you’ve ever stood or sat at the base of a tree, most people feel the grounding and calming effects of this. Rooted into the earth, and reaching toward the sky and sunlight, trees emit a calming presence.

Medicinally and ceremonially, trees have wonderful benefits as well. As I was considering this article and began listing all the trees I know of that are used for their healing benefits, I was impressed by how long the list was getting, and I definitely did not even get close to completing it! Here are a few to remind you, also: Ponderosa Pine (and other pine trees), Fir, Larch, Spruce, Cottonwood/Poplar, Willow, Slippery elm, Cedarwood, Sandalwood, Western Red Cedar (Thuja), Eucalyptus, Tea tree, Palo santo, Copal, Frankincense, Ginkgo, White Oak, etc.

There are a few we use the bark of as a tea or tincture (liquid extract) preparation (such as willow bark and slippery elm inner bark), several where the wood is distilled for essential oil (cedarwood, sandalwood, palo santo), several where the needles are distilled for essential oil (all the conifers – fir, spruce, pine), and several where the leaves are distilled (eucalyptus, tea tree). Cottonwood is used for the both the bark occasionally and for the resinous buds as a tincture or infused oil for topical application. Some the resin is used, such as the conifers, frankincense, copal, etc. to burn, powder, or distill into essential oil.

There are many trees that have been used in a more sacred and ceremonial way, by burning their wood, leaves, or resins, which may be in addition to their uses as physical medicine. These include Palo santo wood which has become very popular for its grounding, centering, and protective properties when burned like an incense, Western red cedar, whose leaves are bundled and burned to clear energy and spaces, and Copal resin which is burned ceremonially for spiritual cleansing and healing and is a popular incense.

When it comes to the conifer (evergreen) tree needles distilled into essential oils or hydrosols, these can be used in a diffuser or in topical applications for several purposes. By inhaling these oils, there are many positive effects on the respiratory tract, helping to open the lungs and sinuses, thinning and drying up excess mucus, and reducing inflammation of the mucosal membranes. These oils, such as Black Spruce, Grand Fir, Scotch Pine, are used for acute and chronic lung and sinus issues, so are great for wintertime health by diffusing in your living spaces, or applying in an oil or cream to the chest and neck. This is also true because compounds in these conifer needle essential oils stimulate the immune system and help ward off airborne viruses and bacteria. They are also useful for chronic lung issues, such as asthma and weak lung capacity, as well as recovery from bronchitis and sinusitis, and smoke exposure (think of cigarette smoke or smoke from wildfires) when inhaled directly or via steam inhalation.

In addition to their respiratory effects, conifer tree essential oils are known for their restoring, energizing, and stabilizing effects on the body. They can be inhaled for helping with burnout, fatigue, chronic or acute stress, recovery from physical illness, during a workout or run, etc. They also can help with muscle soreness by massaging on topically (diluted of course). Black spruce is also used for helping balance emotions, by inhaling for its grounding and centering effects, or massaging on the body and inhaling.

There is so much more I could say about trees and their medicine, but I will leave more for another day. Enjoy, appreciate, and utilize trees for their many positive effects on the body, mind, and spirit, and always be aware of sustainability practices with these precious plants.

You want to know what I love and find unique about herbs and herbal medicine?

What I find unique about herbal medicine is that herbs can be used for both symptom management and for helping to restore the health of an organ or system. For example, milk thistle can be protective to liver cells and help restore and promote regeneration of healthy cells. Hawthorn can be strengthening to the heart and circulatory system and help prevent heart-related issues. Marshmallow root is healing and soothing to the mucosal lining of the gastrointestinal tract and can help with recovery after an inflammatory issue, such as heartburn, gastritis, or leaky gut. Ashwaganda can help us feel more calm and get more restful sleep. Cherry bark can calm a cough and thin mucus.

Within this topic, I also find it important for people to understand the difference between taking an herb for a certain symptom (or symptoms) and taking an herb to support the underlying system. For example, when someone is dealing with a viral infection, such as the flu, there are certainly herbs that might be able to make you more comfortable. Where herbs really stand out, however, is how they can help support your immune system in combating the virus. I think of it as the herbs mobilizing the immune system to keep fighting the invaders or infection. Many of the herbs commonly used to stimulate the immune system have been shown to help shorten the duration and severity of a cold or flu virus. Think: elderberry, olive leaf, oregano. This means you have to keep taking them, even once the symptoms are in full force, and they can really shorten how long you are sick.

Another thing people may not understand, is that you need to take these herbs in copious amounts, frequently, to really have a notable effect for an acute situation such as this. These same herbs are often very effective at keeping you from getting sick in the first place, if you take them frequently when you first feel any sign you might be getting something.

Then there are other immune support herbs that can help you from getting sick in the first place, by taking them on a daily basis or taking them several times a day when around people who are sick. Think: astragalus root, certain medicinal mushrooms such as reishi and shiitake, olive leaf, elderberry. These are used more as preventive medicine (notice there is some overlap) and can help someone get sick less frequently and recover more quickly when they do.

I view herbal medicine as a “tool in the toolkit” of health, and it exists best in a holistic lifestyle of health. This holistic lifestyle includes the things most of us know we “should” be doing, including beneficial nutrition/diet, pure water, sufficient sleep, and exercise, which are essential for care of the body. And yet, there is much more that contributes to a healthy life, including our mental and emotional health, our stress management techniques, the health and quality of our relationships, time in nature, and our general sense of our purpose and place in our communities and in the world. Then there are the various healing modalities we can choose from to help support our health, including massage, acupuncture, naturopathic medicine, nutrition consults, life coaching, therapy, energy work, chiropractic, etc.

Taking herbs alone is not going to solve all of our health problems. But, let me tell you, I am grateful for their many benefits and the healing they have supported in my body and in countless others I have had the pleasure of guiding in their selection and use of herbs for their own healing.

Almond (sweet almond) oil –
One of the most useful, practical, and commonly used oils. This natural expeller pressed oil from raw almond kernels is exceptionally rich in fatty acids. It is great for all skin types as an emollient and is best known for its ability to soften, soothe, and re-condition the skin. It is commonly used as a body oil and massage oil. Good for normal to dry skin types.
Apricot kernel oil – Similar in its properties to sweet almond oil, but more suitable for sensitive and prematurely aged skin, as it is reconditioning, nourishing, and gentle to the skin. Used regularly for facial oils and products. Good for all skin types.
Argan oil – pressed from the Moroccan Argan tree kernels, this oil is high in tocopherols (vitamin E), carotenes, squalene, and fatty acids beneficial to the health of the skin. Squalene is a fat-soluble antioxidant that is well-absorbed into the skin and therefore is cell protective and helps heal damaged skin. Argan oil is a well-absorbed, antioxidant, light oil that is useful for all skin types, including aging skin, as well as for smoothing and treating hair.
Jojoba oil – comes from the beans of a shrub-like plant and is considered the most favored carrier oil family because of its molecular stability and low rancidity.  Jojoba oil is actually a liquid wax and has properties similar to our own sebum, and as a result has been traditionally used in hair and skin products and is a general gentle moisturizer for all skin types. Good for oily, acne prone, and combination skin.
Rosehip seed oil – This unique oil is extremely high in essential fatty acids, and Vitamins A and E. It is generally considered to be best for dry, weathered, and dehydrated skin, although it absorbs into the skin quickly as well. It works well on scars and is the predominant oil used for treating wrinkles and premature aging. Vitamin A, which helps to delay the effects of skin aging, assists with cell regeneration, and promotes collagen and elastin levels to increase.
Tamanu oil – From the whole organic nuts of the Polynesian Tamanu tree, this rich, aromatic oil is famed (and backed by research) for its ability to heal damaged skin. Its benefits are notable for the treatment for scarring, stretch marks, minor cuts and abrasions, rashes, acne and more.  It is also reputed to be useful for nerve pain, inflammation, and has antimicrobial and antioxidant properties.