I’m really excited about my latest tinctures and the ones that are currently in preparation! (Can you tell by all the exclamation points?!)
I just finished two new ones, agrimony (Agrimonia eupatoria) and melissa, a.k.a. lemon balm (Melissa officinalis).
I consider myself a pretty easy-going person, but I live a high-stress life. I know you feel me here, because in this modern world, who doesn’t have a huge amount of stress in their lives? Stress relief is one of the most important aspects of self-care. I have learned the hard way the cost of not taking adequate care of myself. You might feel selfish thinking about your own care, but without it you cannot properly care for others. And it’s not as easy as it sounds, because self-care isn’t obvious–you have to learn how to do it, customize it for your own needs, and then (usually) force yourself to practice it.
Thankfully the botanical world offers us an astounding array of plants which can help reduce the negative impacts of stress. But they work in different ways, on different kinds of stress. If you have tried an herbal remedy for stress in the past, such as chamomile or St. John’s Wort, and found that it didn’t work very well, you probably had the wrong wort for the job. Here I discuss two excellent stress remedies, one fairly well known and one little recognized among the general herb-using public. One of my goals with this blog is to shine a little light on some great herbs that are often overlooked–not for the sake of being different or unusual, but because, let’s face it: conventional wisdom is pretty much an oxymoron. Type “herbal remedies” into Google or Pinterest and you’ll get a slew of the same ol’, same ol’–and inevitably, there will come times when the right remedy for you is not on that very limited list.
Agrimony is one of my desert-island herbs. Since discovering it, I will never, ever be without it. Although it was used back in Graeco-Roman days and continued in use to become one of the major herbs of the traditional German pharmacopeia, whence it made its way into English herbal medicine, it was largely ignored by homeopaths and Americans. Today you will not find it on any of those cute little Pinterest tips. Yet Matthew Wood considers it THE indispensable relaxant.
For my stress, chamomile just doesn’t cut it. It’s still great for stomach aches and hair rinses, but I honestly think the alcohol in my chamomile tincture does more to relieve my stress than the herb does (and no, I am not advocating self-medicating with alcohol!). Similarly, St. John’s Wort just never did much to help with my depression.
It turns out that’s because I’m an agrimony girl. Wood states that chamomile is particularly good for babies’ complaints, and for adults who act like (or feel like) babies. Chamomile-type stress tends to complain, to heave a big sigh, to ask for attention. (That’s cool–no judgments here. We’re all babies sometimes. And asking for help is one of the most important elements of self-care.) Agrimony stress, on the other hand, usually wears a calm and cheerful face. Dr. Bach (of flower essence fame) identified this as well. Here’s how he describes the agrimony person:
“The jovial, cheerful, humorous people who love peace and are distressed by argument or quarrel, to avoid which they will agree to give up much. Though generally they have troubles and are tormented and restless and worried in mind or in body, they hide their cares behind their humour and jesting and are considered very good friends to know. They often take alcohol or drugs in excess, to stimulate themselves and help themselves bear their trials with cheerfulness.”
An agrimony-type person doesn’t just hide their stress from others, but from themselves. Let me ask you this: Are you almost afraid to be without some kind of distraction from your thoughts? Have you tried to tell a friend about your anxiety or depression, only to have them stare at you blankly or even think you’re joking? Is a big chunk of your stress coming from the very knowledge that you are stressed out? Do you feel weak or ashamed if you let your calm demeanor slip–even to yourself? Do you get migraines from tension but try to “play through the pain”? Do you hold your breath when in pain, then blow it out under pressure?
If you answered yes to any of those, there’s a good chance the stress-reliever you need is agrimony. If you answered yes to more than one, you definitely need it.
My own experience with using agrimony tincture and infusions is that it offers immediate calming and grounding. Moreover, I find that within a few hours of taking agrimony, some aspect of my personality or behavior that has not been serving me well comes gently to my awareness. When this happens, I have no feelings of shame or self-blame, I simply notice that the pattern is not working for me and then it’s easy to either let it go or to own it as a part of myself and just stop feeling bad about it. Thus it’s hugely effective for letting go of old baggage. Wood says–although I haven’t yet had the opportunity to verify this–that agrimony produces noticeable change not only in yourself but in your environment, in particular preventing interference from busybodies and micromanagers (and if that wouldn’t relieve stress, what would?).
Another benefit is that it’s great for problems deriving from overly relaxed, “leaky” tissues, including oily skin and diarrhea. It literally and figuratively helps you keep it together.
Melissa (lemon balm)
Melissa is much better known than agrimony. Apparently it has even been profiled on the Dr. Oz show, where it was termed “herbal valium,” which has probably done a lot to popularize it. It is a delightful herb in the mint family, and like many of the mints it’s good for the nerves. Melissa is so nice and mellow, it’s even easy to grow. Seriously–I dare you to not be successful at growing this herb. You can harvest a lot of it, and it attracts bees (melissa is from the Greek word for honeybee) and butterflies to your garden.
Many people drink melissa tea simply because it has a nice sweet-lemony taste, and in the olden days it was hailed as a general tonic that would heal practically anything that ailed you. Mrs. Grieve says:
“John Hussey, of Sydenham, who lived to the age of 116, breakfasted for fifty years on Balm tea sweetened with honey, and herb teas were the usual breakfasts of Llewelyn Prince of Glamorgan, who died in his 108th year.”
I can’t promise it’ll make you live more than a century, but one of the excellent things about melissa is that, in addition to being a sedative for overworked nerves, it is cooling for overheated types. It literally helps you keep your cool. This includes cases of fever as well as people who just generally run hot, such as those who would be classified as pitta dosha in Ayurvedic medicine. It is mood-lifting, relaxing, stomach-settling, migraine-relieving, and anti-histamine. Melissa improves the functioning of the nervous system generally, so it makes your brain work better.
I find that melissa is particularly good for stopping the obsessive rumination that keeps one from falling asleep. I also use it for any situation that gives me butterflies in my stomach.
The mel– root of melissa means honey, which seems especially appropriate when you see its color in the sun:
Why I use pisco in my tinctures
The thing that–if I do say so myself–makes my tinctures awesome is that I use pisco as the menstruum (the solvent in which the herbs are extracted).
What is pisco? It’s a Peruvian brandy made from grapes. The variety I use is 82 proof (41% alcohol), more than sufficient for extracting herbs and preserving their properties, but it tastes good. I mean really good. I first had it in Peru in 1998, and back then it was virtually nonexistent in the U.S., but it got trendy for a while and happily nowadays it’s a bit more widely available.
Ok, one man’s meat is another man’s poison, I know. I have a sensitive, alcohol-intolerant liver (cheap drunk) and I’m a super-taster. That fun combination means that getting
poisoned drunk is no fun for me and most alcohol tastes like poison really bad. In particular, the grain alcohol and cheap vodka that are used to make many tinctures are quite disgusting. Brandy is not so bad, as long as it’s sufficiently pricey (not so cheap drunk?), but look, the point is the alcohol used for tincturing isn’t usually very nice. It’s there for its solvent and preservative properties, not for fun.
Even if you’re not as persnickety about alcoholic beverages as I am, I think you’ll agree that pisco makes a nice menstruum for herbal tinctures, because it has a sweet, fruity, floral taste that blends beautifully with plant flavors, and little aftertaste.
I mean, just because you’re taking a tincture for medicinal reasons doesn’t mean it can’t taste good, right?
I have a bunch more tinctures macerating as we speak, including but not limited to dandelion, goldenseal, St. John’s Wort, lamb’s ears, and oatstraw. I am so excited to try these remedies, some of which I have never made before. In the meantime I’m enjoying the beautiful jewel tones the herbs are imparting to the liquid.