Maybe it’s these intense times we are living in, but I’ve been seeing more clients recently with a history of trauma. Maybe it’s because I’ve been reading more about trauma recently. Or maybe because more people are recognizing what trauma is and wanting to work with it as our culture FINALLY gets around to acknowledging that not just Vietnam vets can experience PTSD (and even veterans are under-diagnosed in my opinion).
Anemone is a beautiful herb to work with triggered states, whether from past trauma or from other sources. The fresh plant tincture is incredibly centering, and helps bring us back into our bodies. Anemone is my favorite remedy for panic attacks, acute anxiety, and feeling all over the place. These are intense times, and this is a plant well suited to treat trauma. I think of it as “Herbal Rescue Remedy.”
The genus name comes from the Greek word for wind (“anemos”), and some of the plants are known as wind-flowers. This is very appropriate, since it is the perfect remedy when we feel disconnected from our body, like our spirit is all up in the air, and our emotions are blowing around like the wind.
Although these plants have a long history of use, I find the best description of this emotionally settling use in the books of the Eclectic physician-herbalists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Eclectic John Fyfe, MD, wrote in 1903, “This is one of our most useful and frequently indicated remedies.”
King’s Dispensatory of 1898 has a long list of its Specific Indications, which begins with, “Nervousness and despondency, sadness, unnatural fear, tendency to weep, morbid mental excitement, marked depression of spirits…” This kind of intense triggered state is when Anemone really shines, helping us find the presence of mind and heart to deal with overwhelming emotions without sedating or numbing out. In fact, it helps us be more present without feeling like we are drowning in our emotional experience.
It is a “low-dose botanical,” meaning that it is used in doses of 1-5 drops of the tincture (alcohol extract) for best effect; much more than this can cause stomach irritation and vasodilation, so it is better to do small frequent doses if needed, and never large doses. It’s not dangerous, but too much will give you some unpleasant feeling side effects. I don’t usually write about low-dose botanicals but this is such a useful plant that it’s worth it.
I learned about this genus of plants from my teacher Michael Moore, who introduced it to modern herbalism, and most of the folks I know who use it have either studied with him or with one of his many students who are now teachers. I still think of Michael as the godfather of modern American herbalism.
Michael said only the western species are effective, such as Anemone occidentalis, Anemone tuberosa, or Anemone patens. Some of these are now in the Pulsatilla genus, and the whole remedy is used similarly to the homeopathic remedy Pulsatilla.
Another benefit of this plant is that it can be extremely helpful for migraines. In the same doses of 1-5 drops it can be surprisingly effective, especially when the headaches make you feel weak and faint. It is better for “vasoconstriction migraines” with a lack of blood flow to the head with a pale face and feeling cold.
But I’ve started experimenting using a fairly common east coast species, Thimbleweed Anemone virginiana (pictured), and I’ve found it just about as effective, though sometimes I need to go up to 10 drops for maximum effectiveness. I discovered this because I have a strong connection to the Anemones and one day this plant just called to me to be made into medicine. I started experimenting in non-emergency situations and found it be just about as good as the western species!
What’s exciting about this is that the plants need to be tinctured fresh, so this means us eastern herbalists can still harvest this plant ourselves, and this species is a fairly common native plant of tall meadows bordering woodlands. This time of year you’ll see it along trails from North Carolina to New York to southern Ohio, and probably further.
It is available occasionally in commerce (my company Pine’s Herbals sells both the west coast Anemone occidentalis, and if you feel like experimenting, the local Anemone virginiana). And it is not too difficult to find in the wild in June and July. Harvest the whole above ground herb (leaving enough plants to set seed for next year) and tincture in pure alcohol (95% or strongest you have). Because of the low dose, even a half pint will last a long time. Because it is acrid (strong and burning taste), I recommend chopping it outside so your nose doesn’t burn.
We as a culture have a lot to do to heal the trauma that we carry, and herbs will never be a substitute for work like Somatic Experiencing therapy, but the Anemone plants are a good temporary fix for those challenging moments.