Calming Plants from The Herb Garden

January 13, 2015


This morning, with the moon hanging in a powder blue sky, it was cold enough that even my lab, Bubbaloo, hesitated when I put my boots on to go for a walk. So I closed the door on the cold, put the kettle on and spent some time flipping through seed catalogues.


Many people ask me if I grow the plants I use my practice as a herbalist. “Some I do, some I don’t,” is my usual answer. I love to grow herbs in the garden that make great fresh plant tinctures, a water/alcohol extract of plant medicine. There are two reasons I love fresh plant tinctures:


  • Often tinctures made with fresh plants gathered in from the garden or from the wild carry more potent medicine than tinctures made with dried plants.

  • Making medicine with fresh plants is less work than making medicine with dried plants. Fresh plant tinctures eliminate the precarious drying process.


There are two different class of plant that I like to make into fresh tinctures. Plants that carry a strong scent and are frequently use to make anti-microbial tinctures such as: thyme (Thymus vulgaris), angelica (Angelica archangelica) and lovage (Levisticum officinale).


The other plants that I make fresh tinctures with calm the nervous system. This morning I find myself considering these plants.


In a large planter, where we kept the recycling in before I repurposed it, I grow the most versatile, abundant and safe tonic for the nervous system: oat seed (Avena sativa). I love this plant, but not for breakfast. If I eat oats for breakfast, my sensitive tummy becomes upset.


Oat seed is the perfect nerve tonic for everyone from the hyperactive child to his frazzled Mom. Oat seed smooths frayed nerves and slows down over active reaction times. Oat seed is perfect for those times when one feels exhausted by an over demanding life.


The next plant that I love to grow is skulcap (Scutellaria lateriflora). I grow skullcap in the garden by the deck. This garden bed my husband built for me a couple of years ago. At the time, I expressed great concern about the blend of soil he used, lots of sand, some peat moss and compost. But the sand, with its amazing draining ability in contrast to peat moss’ ability to hold moisture has made this a bed that skullcap loves to grow in.


I think skulcap’s name says it all. This is medicine for people who live in their head. They tell me, “I can’t stop thinking.” Or “my thoughts are all tangled up.” Skulcap calms thoughts, while quieting anxiety. Skulcap is the plant to use when anxiety triggers twitching and pacing. Sometimes it is used in sleep formulas, but mostly I like to use it in over work formulas. A little skullcap makes the day hum along.

I always plant california poppy (Eschscholzia californica). Usually I plant it next to the rhodiola (Rodiola roscea), a medicinal herb from Siberia in another garden. They always seem to be a strange combination but they definitely enjoy each other’s company.

California poppy calms down the disturb mind quickly. It is purely symptomatic relief. I rarely use it long term for clients. I find it most helpful during times of intense transition such as getting married, getting divorced, writing exams.. It takes the edge off.

Borage (Borago off.) is a plant I do not even recall bringing in to the garden. It arrived on its own, uninvited and has tried to dominate the garden ever since. Borage for courage is a saying herbalists pass on to students of plant medicine.

A fresh tincture of borage leaves and flowers brings hope and courage where there was none. Borage calms the release of stress hormones from the adrenal glands. Borage seems to give people the courage to take unpopular stands while setting firm boundaries. I have seen people take borage to help them find the courage to heal deep festering family wounds. Its curious a plant that refuses to stay where it was planted helps humans find the courage to set boundaries.


Well, the garden seems to taking shape already, and there isn’t even any dirt under my fingernails. 


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