The Cherokee have a story that inspired me many years ago. Unlike the dominant culture, the Cherokee and many other indigenous cultures believe that everything is interconnected. The story talks about the origin of our suffering, our disconnection from ourselves and other forms of life, which began when our heart and shadow became ruptured, similar to the plot in “The Dark Crystal”, which is one of my favorite renditions of this concept. The goal, is to weave these parts of ourselves back together. Not only did this rupture separate parts of ourselves, it also created a wound in the middle of our chest. Many try to fill the wound with shopping, work, drugs, sex, alcohol or the pursuit of power, which we know does not work. We must heal the wound, not fill it. To do this we must cultivate mind, spirit and body by knowing ourselves... our darkness, our light, strengths and weaknesses, our ego. The Eleusinian Mysteries, a sacred rite held in ancient Greece to the Goddess Demeter used herbs to alter the consciousness of the initiates. According to Plato, the core teachings of these mysteries were, “Know Thyself” and “Nothing in Excess.” These teachings are helpful to us even today, so many thousands of years later.
Kava (Piper methysticum) is a plant native to Polynesia and Oceana and is traditionally used by Polynesians in their Kava ceremonies. The importance is not only in the plant, but in the ceremony itself. In the gathering of community, in sharing space and ingesting the plant as part of a group. We are slowly reviving these traditions in our dominant culture of ‘individualism.’ I believe this is an integral part of reconnecting with our selves.
Kava relaxes the muscles, reduces stress and relieves anxiety; providing a deep feeling of relaxation without feeling tired. This allows the mind to be open and can facilitate meditation.
4 tsps dried root to 8 oz. hot water; simmer 15 minutes; carefully pour in a blender and mix until completely liquid; steep 1 hour.
Use roots from plants that are 4 years + only. Not for excessive use and not to be combined with alcohol or medications. Not to be used for people with Parkinson's.
Mugwort (Artemisia argyi) is a common weed that grows in temperate zones throughout the world. Usually called the dreaming herb, this plant stimulates active dreaming. You can prepare as a tea, but also prepare smudge sticks of the fresh plant to cleanse the air in your home and invite connection with the spiritual world. Mugwort tastes a little bitter so feel free to combine it with honey, organic roses, cinnamon or any of your favorite flavors.
3-4 tsps. dried leaves to 24 ozs. of hot water. Steep 30-40 minutes. Drink at least 1-2 hours before bedtime.
Respectfully harvest fresh herb. Allow to dry upside down for one day. Combine about 4-6 stalks and wrap tightly with cotton string, securing at 4 inch intervals before proceeding. Let dry one more day before cutting just above 4 inch mark. Allow to dry for another 5-7 days before burning.
Pregnancy; people with sensitive skin should use gloves when harvesting. Do not exceed dosage as may cause dizziness, nausea and vomiting.
Hawthorn (Crataegus oxycanthoides) is one of the best heart herbs. Not only does it work on a physical level by restoring healthy functions of the heart such as irregular heart beat, mitral valve prolapse and ischemic heart diseases to name a few, it also lowers blood pressure (a risk factor for heart attack) and LDL and VLDL cholesterol. Traditional use also includes opening the heart center. We hold our stories within our bodies and our heart can unknowingly hold our grief, sadness and depression. To know ourselves is to bring those pieces back home and deepen our connection to heart and shadow, spirit, body and mind.
8 tsps. dried berries to 24 oz. hot water, steep 1-2 hours, drink 3 cups daily. The flowers can also be used in combination with berries by adding 10 tsps. flowers and steeping for half hour.
Cardiac medications, especially Digoxin.
Lauraine Velez is an experienced clinical herbalist who trained at the David Winston’s Center for Herbal Studies. She uses Traditional Chinese Medicine along with Western, Ayurvedic, Middle Eastern and Cherokee herbal traditions. She's the founder of Apothecratic Oath.
Photo credit: "Carrefour D'hecate" by Argentine surrealist painter Leonor Fini (1907-1996).