Grief comes in waves. Our bodies are not resigned to be able to hold one feeling all the time, and they must come and go, regardless of how we feel about them. Sometimes with each new global catastrophe or ever far right reaching Supreme Court decision at home, our bodies are subject to the anxiety and depression that late stage capitalism brings. Humans have always faced trauma and challenge, and always sought ways to mitigate it with plants. There are many wonderful articles about right now about how we can support out systems in trying times, and I wanted to share how the people on this land did so too. Here are a few helpful things:
Janet Kent: Herbs for Grief
Ritual Botanicas Herbal blend for Grief
+Nervines in Appalachian Folk Medicine+
“I have that run down feeling”. “My spirits of low”. “I have trouble with the nerves”. All of these terms were used to describe mild depression or anxiety in Appalachia. Influential Edinburgh physician Willian Cullen, said that neuroses or nervous diseases as, “all those preternatural affections of sense and motion which are without pyrexia.” The disorders that fell under this heading were wide, many diseases were seen as under the dominion of nerves, such as apoplexy, paralysis, fainting, indigestion, epilepsy, hypochondriasis, vapors, low spirits, tetanus, palpitation of the heart, hysteria, mania, and melancholia.
Fundamentally, treating nerves in Appalachian folk medicine focused on tonics and strengthening the weak system. The Western European tradition of medicine provided the groundwork with which African and Indigenous medicine traditions would augment it in the mountains. Historically, treating nerves focused on other drugs carefully delivered to the specific constitution of the patient. Narcotics: opium, belladonna, hyoscyamine, nicotine, laurocerasus, and sweet almond. Sedatives were also incorporated with purging and blood letting, many of them had strong orders, such as asofeotida. Appalachian folk medicine was informed by popular medicine of the day in the 19th century, and the combination of tonics, blood purifier, exercise, specific herbal sedatives and nervines all tailored to the specific constitution of the patient.
Bitters were commonly thought to be a first step towards treating nerves as a whole system approach was utilized. Bitters like Yellowroot (Xanthorhiza simplicissima), Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), Gentian (Gentiana spp.), and Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis). Tommie Bass used two ounces of the following: Angelico (Boarhog root) (Ligusticum canadense), Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum), Wild cherry bark (Prunus serotina), and yellow root. He combined these and boiled them in a gallon of water for one hour. He would then add one tablespoon of cayenne pepper, and on occasion Dandelion or Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) were added. He recommended one tablespoon three times a day.
Medicines like Catnip, Sage and Peppermint (Mentha spp.) were considered nervines due to 19th century ideas about the stomach connections with nerve disorders. Tommie Bass had a tonic to calm the nerves which contained Maypop (Passiflora incarnata), Sage (Salvia officinalis), Peppermint, Skullcap (Scutellaria spp.), and Peach leaves (Prunus persica). Many tonics involved water or vinegar as a menstruum, but whiskey was an oft used ingredient. Noted folklorist Doug Elliott writes that some mountaineers used alcohol tonics as a means of getting around temperance.
+Please consult an herbalist before taking any of these remedies. For historical research only+
Tommie Basses Nerve Tonic: 2 cups peach tree leaves, 2 cups passionflower, one cup bugleweed, a cup catnip, a cup mullein. Boil 20 min. 4 quarts of water. Take 2 tbsp 3-5 times a day Or as often as needed.
One of Tommie’s popular mixtures was catnip, maypop leaves, skullcap, sage and peach tree leaves and sometimes bay laurel leaves which he used specifically for nervous headaches, rattled nerves, and sleep potion for stubborn insomnia.
+Bay Laurel (Magnolia virginiana):
Magnolia used in southern herbalism as a tonic, digestive, bitter, anti-anxiety, for chest complaints. Tommie Bass used 3 dried leaves to 1 cup boiling water, steep 10 minutes and strain. Used for sleep time tea that is good for the nerves and stomach.
+Black cohosh (Cimifuga racemosa):
It was used to treat nerves, among many things, and taught to settlers by indigenous people. Also known as Black Snakeroot. Though best known as a women’s medicine historically, it was also used to help restless babies sleep. Use 20- 40 drops tincture (1:2 fresh, 1:5 dried root 60 % alcohol) three times a day for acute symptoms, three times daily for tonic. Avoid large doses as these can cause headaches and vomiting.
+Catnip (Nepeta cataria):
This classic remedy has calmed fussy babies for centuries. It is considered an old standby for anxious children. It helps the stomach aspects of anxiety. If one gets upset stomach from anxiety, Catnip is for you.
+Heal All (Prunella vulgaris):
Best combined with peach leaf, skull cap, bay laurel, for frazzled nerves, not as sedating as other mints. Cold its used for tonic and hot for nerves and diaphoretic. Avoid use in pregnancy and overly using it with children.
+Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata):
This Native plant was used by the Cherokee for a wide variety of ailments from crushed roots for boils to eating the cooked leaves and fruits with cornmeal. In modern herbal practice the leaf and flower are used as nervines for acute cases of anxiety. Passionflower helps with tension headaches and tight muscles caused by nervousness, as well as insomnia and restlessness. Tommie Bass used it for high blood pressure due to stress as well. When tension causes chest tightness, heart palpitations or vascular constrictions, it is also helpful. Small, frequent doses are best, 20-50 drops of tincture (1:2 fresh, 1:5 dried in 40% alcohol), or infusion 1 tsp dried or 2 tsp fresh flowers and leaves.
+Peach Leaf (Prunus persica):
Peach is a native of central Asia, but is widely cultivated in temperate climates throughout the world. It was used as an old European folk remedy, yet upon with the colonization of North America, it was eagerly adopted by the indigenous people as a food and medicine, and is still considered a part of traditional Cherokee medicine. Peach kernal, leaf, and twigs all contain acids and cyanogens which are considered constitutionally cooling. Combined peach leaf with red clover tops and passionflower it is a great sleepy time remedy. Avoid using the kernel and wilted leaves for cyanide levels are high and toxicity becomes a danger.
+Sage (Salvia officinalis):
Promotes sleep and rest as warm tea.
+Skull cap (Scutellaria lateriflora and other sp.):
Old nervine, not as strong as lobelia, but safer. Used in conjunction with passionflower, peach leaves, sage and bay leaves which all calm the nerves and aid one in falling asleep.
+Rabbit Tobacco (Gnaphalium obtusifolium):
Also known as life everlasting, smoked to relieve nervousness. Tommie Bass combined it for a quick acting nervine with mountain mint, sage, and peach leaves.
+Sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua):
The bark tea was used to relieve anxiety.
Crellin, John K. Trying to Give Ease: Tommie Bass and the Story of Herbal Medicine. Duke University Press, 1997.
Howell, Patricia Kyritsi. Medicinal Plants of the Southern Appalachians. Botanologos Books, 2006.
Patton, Darryl. Mountain Medicine: the Herbal Remedies of Tommie Bass. Natural Reader Press, 2004.
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