I can still picture her. My client was hovering on the edge of her seat, face flushed and foot-tapping incessantly. My efforts to calm this client had seemed only to aggravate her. I excused myself and went to my apothecary to recruit help. Returning, I asked my client, I’ll call her Maria, if she felt comfortable taking an herb so we could better assess her needs. She agreed, and I gave her 10 drops of motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) tincture.
“I knew I had come to the right place.”
After a few minutes, Maria visibly relaxed. She sat back, loosening her jaw a bit, and made a joke about how anxious she was and asked, could she have another sip? After the second sip, she shifted position, planted both feet on the floor, and then tears welled up in her eyes. “I knew I had come to the right place,” she said.
That magic elixir, motherwort, is a common garden plant. In fact, as a member of the mint family, it can be a bit intrusive in the garden. The profound effect Maria experienced was not elicited by some rare and exotic plant from the Amazon or Tibet. It was a common garden plant, motherwort, that allowed this client to experience profound changes.
Maria presented with heat and tension that had been present for so long she was barely aware of her fidgeting and spastic movements. My client had recounted her many visits to practitioners, which brought her little to no relief. A few symptoms had improved at times, but truth be told, she was getting worse. Maria described her cracking joints and stiffness, cold hands and feet, sluggish bowels, and dry skin and eyes. Her most distressing symptom, she said, was the insomnia. And by the way, what was that herb that she had just taken, and could she have another sip?
The energy of motherwort directly affected the energy of Maria. As a bitter herb, motherwort is cooling, so it chilled the heat from her anxiety. As a bitter relaxant, motherwort allowed Maria to settle into herself with a little more ease. Cracking of the joints can signify dryness, and when tension relaxes for extended periods of time, fluids flow easier to lubricate tendons and bowels. Pretty magical that this wild and weedy plant could have such a profound effect on Maria’s energy, physical being, and even state of mind! Maria’s immediate ability to relax allowed her to self-correct and thereby better access her senses, emotions, and, ultimately, her true nature.
This is energetic herbalism. Its elegance lies in its simplicity and its sensuality: reading patterns of the person and matching the patterns to those found in plants. Maria’s pattern of long-term tension led to a pattern of dryness, which in turn possibly led to a pattern that energetic practitioners call wind, or internal, changing patterns. Obviously, treating the needs of clients—and even ourselves—is not always so simple and clear-cut. Yet I can say I have journeyed with a multitude of “Marias” to reach greater health through the lens of energetics.
[Read: “A Gardener’s Awakening: An Interview With Michael Pollan.”]
Generally, energetics in herbalism relates the energetics of the plant (cooling, moving motherwort) to a current imbalance or condition (anxiety, tension), then lastly to the energetics of the person or constitution (sensitive, dry). The underlying foundation is the energetics of the spirit (unconditional support) of the plant and the sacred relationship an herbalist develops with the land and these sentient beings, the plants.
Honoring Roots of Energetic Models
The word energetic may conjure images of New Age crystals, and the term is sometimes misapplied to any and all new healing modalities. In truth, energetic herbalism is as old as the Earth herself. This mode of healing is based on the truth that the vital force of nature and the vital force of an individual human are one and the same. Indigenous cultures the world over call this force spirit in their native language. Ancient Greeks called this force vitality, the Chinese call it Qi (chi), Iroquois nation calls it Orenda, Ayurveda calls it Prana, and West Africans call it Ashe.
The goal of energetic herbalism is to enhance our terrain, which is our inner landscape—our tissues, organs, vessels, and all the forces that are engaged to maintain our health. The aim is to create an environment where we optimize nutrition from food, breath from air, and joy from our surroundings so our vitality flows with the least hindrance. To be in the flow is the goal of these traditions.