I’ve mentioned before that I’m focusing deeply on healing my adrenals and balancing my emotions this year. It’s been a slow process, but I am seeing some lovely signs of progress. Of course, no matter how good my intentions are, life never stops to wait for healing before piling new challenges on us.
“The purpose of life is to be defeated
by greater and greater things.”
Rilke, writing over a century ago understands completely. It’s one of the joys and pains of the Christian life – the long defeat of history is always swallowed up by the all-defeating wonder of God’s Mercy, “through which we ripen as we fight it.”
But as all this glorious growing goes on around us, we’re sometimes (often?) buried in pain. Our pain, or the pain of others. “everything is close up, and every closeness has become a rock.” But that doesn’t mean we have to continually break ourselves on that rock.
This spring, after a Lenten detox that began cleansing stress hormones and toxins from my liver, I’m adding in some strong-but-gentle boundary herbs to help build up the emotional fences that keep peace within me, but still leave space for me to reach out and gently touch the pain of others.
How do Boundary Herbs Work?
I don’t know. Maybe the work on the brain itself, or maybe they soothe our emotions by stabilizing hormones. I’m not really interested in the how and why, honestly – I’m interested in the who and what. I want to get to know the plants themselves and develop healing relationships with them.
[Does that sound ridiculous or careless? If so, I understand. There are some lovely, science-minded herbalists out there, but I’m not one of them. “This really is a fairy tale. I sit in a .. house of gables that is overgrown everywhere with gardens, among lovely inestimable things, in chambers that are filled with the mood of someone creating.”]
My herbalism is “brotherly with trees” and it “has a hundred images and prayers” all around it. There is research somewhere – mostly in connection with instinct and relationship. It’s messy. But I’ll leave some book recommendations at the bottom of the page for more practical readers.
Yarrow is my favorite boundary herb – it offers a thicker skin and a tender heart. Yarrow is a close friend of those who are grieving. It can help us remain ourselves while mourning the loss of a person, relationship, or dream. But yarrow can also stop us from flowing too far out from ourselves. Traditionally, it’s used as a blood-stopping herb; and it can help us stop co-dependent behaviors as well. It’s an astringent herb, and emotionally, yarrow tightens and strengthens without repressing.
New to me in the past few years, Hawthorn has become a beloved friend in my pursuit of internal balance. Hawthorn is an herb (tree actually) that pierces the heart. The trees long, sharp thorns have long been associated with Christ’s Crown of Thorns (as well as [the rumored magician]Joseph of Arimathea). For those of us going through our own via dolorosa, hawthorn is a deep healer. In fact, it’s heart healing effects have even been studied by the science-minded. So if you’re heart is feeling weighed down, if you wear your stress in your chest, or if your blood pressure is rising under life’s strain, hawthorn is an essential ally.
Lemon Balm and Linden pair up deliciously in my mind as well in the context of boundaries and emotional health. Both have a soft, maternal edge to them. They gather up our feelings and then kiss us to sleep. Though lemon balm is a wild, hardy herb and linden is a spreading tree – the both feel gentle on the soul. Bees love the flowers of both plants, and you can gather up fresh leaves or flowers and steep them in local honey for a fragrant treat.
Last of all, I want to mention another beloved tree, Birch. My little woodland is full of these graceful trees. I don’t know how many people use birch medicinally these days, but birches are powerful. In Slavic traditions, birches are a protective trees. They make a place safe from evil spirits and oppressive thoughts. The March full moon is named for birches, and of course, they symbolize renewal, spring, and new life. I like plucking young leaves or taking a small amount of loose bark to add to my own boundary teas. Birches are anti-inflammatory, detoxifying plants that can help us process through the physical effects of emotional strain and create stronger spiritual walls.
“It’s spring again. The earth is like a child that knows poems by heart.” With all the newness and beauty around us, it’s an ideal time to clean and balance our interior lives as well. “The world is real..and.. moves us to great feeling or to fear” but as we go forward, herbs and trees can help us embrace everything – “beauty and terror” with grace and balance.
Books to Read
For those of you who want less flighty herb information, check out Penelope Ody’s Home Herbal and Complete Book of Herbal Medicine. John Lust’s The Herb Book. Polish Herbs, Flowers, and Folk Medicine by Sophie Knab. Or, Culpeper’s Complete Herbal.