We have turned the corner of winter. We have passed February 1st and call it Groundhog Day, Candlemas, or Imbolc, the cold months are half over. But how is your patience with the darkness? Things are beginning to pick up in anticipation of spring-time, crocus and daffodils are blooming (at least here in the South), but there are still frosts and freezes, snow and cold dark nights to journey through. February might be the shortest month of the year, but it is the month that tries our patience the most.
And in the middle of this dark month we have this celebration of love, Valentine’s Day. Whether this is a time of romantic spark in the cold or a guilt-inducing Hallmark holiday, you’ve got to wonder about the timing. Is it too much to bring in all those red hearts in this gray month? Whatever your answer, it is a good time to look into our hearts and remember our core.
For that is what is going to see us through the darkness – coming back into our core, remembering ourselves deeper and so having the patience to endure. Which brings us to today’s subject, embracing the contradiction of February. Let’s talk about aphrodisiacs and about loss and grief. Take what you need from this discussion, because without going through the darkness we won’t be able to recognize the light. And interestingly enough, it is the same group of herbs that can do both because both are times we need to open our hearts.
Think romance and you might think of roses. As an herbal remedy, Rose (Rosa spp.) also helps heal our hearts. I like to make a rose elixir with half brandy and half glycerin and pour that over dried (fresh if in season!) rose flowers. This is a delicious remedy that helps open our hearts to our lovers, our friends, and also to feel our feelings. Rose is a big part of my Sweet Love Potion, but I also use it in formulas to help heal a broken heart or to move stuck grief.
Rose is under-rated because it is too obvious, but for the same reason that smelling roses makes us feel good, tasting rose does the same thing.
Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) is a tree in the rose family that also has a great reputation for the heart. Some call it the “chief heart nourishing herb” in western herbal medicine. Traditionally, the berries are primarily used but recent herbalists have started using the flowers as well, and I have found them to be exceptional, perhaps even better than the berries for the emotional heart and also for lowering blood pressure. The berries still have lots of flavonoids, the chemical that turns the fruit red, which is a great anti-oxidant and a nourishing tonic for the blood vessels, so I usually combine flowers and berries.
But I do find Hawthorn flower to be especially amazing for opening our hearts to feel more and to move through our process more. It combines well with roses, as in Herbalist & Alchemist’s formula “Grief Relief” which also has Mimosa bark (Albizzia julibrissin). Mimosa is another great herb for love or for healing loss and grief; either way the experience opens us up to feel more. In my own Pine’s Herbals “Happy Heart” formula, we use Hawthorn flowers and berries, Rose glycerite, Linden, and Motherwort for both the physical and emotional heart.
It’s very interesting that most of these plants have a thorniness (Rose, Hawthorn and Motherwort). It reminds me of the “Heart Protector” organ in Chinese medicine, the part of ourselves that stands guard at the door of our innermost self and makes sure we only admit what will truly serve us. When our Heart Protector is out of balance we forget our appropriate boundaries and let in people and experiences that aren’t in our best interest. An important part of love, any love, is about balancing our inner and outer worlds, in other words about balancing opening and protecting.
Ah, but then there is Mimosa tree (Albizzia julibrissin), called the “Collective Happiness” tree but it grows like a weed across the Southeast and into the Midwest. The bark and flowers are both used in Chinese medicine and both are uplifting and joyous. The flowers are the color of a sunset or as my wife Karen Savage Shane likes to say, “little faerie paint brushes”! Beautiful, deliciously fragrant and abundant, they make a great extract that is uplifting, invigorating and just plain happy. Karen and I made a Mimosa mead a couple years ago that is still one of my favorite meads I’ve made.
The bark is also uplifting but penetrates deeper into our body. By circulating the Qi and Blood, it helps us move through places where we are stuck and nourishes the heart in the process. I use Mimosa bark to much success in formulas when people are stuck in a funk or a rut of melancholy that they can’t seem to find their way out of.
Let’s wrap up by talking about those all-purpose remedies, the adaptogens. Both Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) and Ginseng (Panax ginseng) are great tonics for the whole body, especially when people are feeling tired, overwrought and/or overwhelmed. But they are also great sexual tonics as well. Ginseng is more warming and Ashwagandha more relaxing and nourishing, so depending on what you need, either can help you rekindle your pilot light for a sweet night of togetherness, or they can help you have the energy and stamina to see you through the process of grief and release.
One last note – emotions are healthy when they are moving. Whether you are working through infatuation or grief, or just engaged in the ever-shifting dance of romance as we get to know someone more deeply, remember to move. Whether it’s yoga, qi gong, or just going for a walk, moving our body helps us move through stuck emotions. And breathe, always remember to breathe.
Whichever process you are going through, be brave, feel your feelings and listen to your deep heart – it never lies. As we move through the rest of the dark and the cold, remember to nourish and tend your inner fire deep within your heart, and use these herbs to help carry you through to spring-time and the return of the green.