Saturday, November 18, 2017


All over this blue and green planet have evolved systems relating to mapping out the energetics (and actions) of plants. The sensorial experiences of how they effect the body and their relationship with it. Traditional or indigenous medicines from various parts of the globe. Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine are probably most familiar.

I am feeling out some of the language of traditions, including the ancestry of the patterns described in Western Herbalism. There are polarities in this language that have a whole complex spectrum between them in application, but to introduce some of the signifiers, with roots heading to Galen (ancient Greek), here we have: hot/ cold, dry/damp. I am very much on my L plates with this and so acknowledge that I'm turning to other herbalists experiences as reference points, whilst working from my own limits and keeping it on the level.

I come from a lineage of women who work creatively in the kitchen, applying their taste buds and instincts to create food as medicine, and applying aesthetics creatively to make art that feeds the soul as depicting nature. The interface between people and plants came through these mediums in the lives of my mother, aunt and grandmothers. Herbalism is a place where I touch this. Energetics are a grounded use of sensations accessible to experiential learning, through a filter before microscopes were around. I am walking between these worlds in the now.

In patterns of energetics and actions, 'drying' herbs are generally associated with encouraging the flow of fluids out from the body. Diuretics make you wee more, like Nettle, Parsley or Celery seed, diaphoretics encourage sweating through the pores of the skin, like Ginger, Chilli or Fenugreek. Despite the fact these herbs bring moisture to the area they effect initially. Nothing like a spicy curry to work up a sweat!

                                                   Comfrey (Symphytum uplandica x)

Astringent herbs, constrict tissues when applied, giving the feel of being 'drying', like a glass of red (or three's), effects on the tissues of the mouth, or Witch hazels on the skin. Paradoxically when tissues tighten and bind they often hold in fluids. Like the fresh chewed leaves of Comfrey, or Yarrow, which seal and tighten the skin around a wound, whilst preventing furthur bleeding.
They are locally drying, whilst not drying out the body from loss of fluids. So to say astringent herbs are 'drying' is a simplification.
Also, as herbalist Dorothy Hall puts it, proving the old wives tale of putting cold black tea (Thea chinensis) on burns blisters. The astringency will stop furthur fluid loss into the blister, whilst also causing reabsorption into underlying tissues of whats already present. Old wives know what they're about....

                                                      Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

                                                         Heartsease (Viola tricolour)

Damp herbs moisten and lubricate. Rub a Heartsease, Plantain or Marshmallow leaf between your fingers and you can feel the moisture contained within them as mucilage. These herbs soothe and ease inflamed (or indeed dry) tissues, like Slippery Elm taken internally can soothe an agitated digestive tract or Marshmallow root can a dry hacking unproductive cough.


'Dorothy Hall's Herbal Medicine'. Lothian. 1988.

Plant Healer Magazine

'Traditions of Western Herbalism' by Mathew Wood. North Atlantic Books 2004. 

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