My Top 5 Herbs from 2020

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Well y’all, we made it through one hell of a year! It’s been many moons since I’ve written on here, and to say the least…a lot has happened since then. While we’re all living in the reality of a Covid-19 filled world, I’m hopeful that next year will bring about some positive changes. To be totally honest, I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished much this year, but I think living and coping with the new reality has been enough for us all. This year we’ve all found refuge in certain comforts. For me that’s meant taking meditative walks around my neighborhood, reading sci-fi and fantasy mostly as a form of escapism, trail running (people-y-ness permitting), and drinking a nice warm cups of tea. Making tea blends and elixirs gave me some respite from the stresses of these days, and I’ll include some of top herbs of the year here. If you’re interested in learning about herbs, Herbal Academy is offering 25% classes through January 3, click here to learn more. To purchase any herbs mentioned below, please visit Mountain Rose Herbs.

1. Hawthorn

Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) is one of my favorite herbs, it’s a cardiotonic and also very delicious at that! I love to use hawthorn berries, leaves, and flowers combined together in teas. It also has a history of use in foods and drinks, like jams and wines, so you can explore with it as you would with other berries. Because hawthorn is specifically indicated for heart conditions and heart health–and stress/anxiety over time will weaken the heart–this was an especially helpful herb to have on hand in 2020. We could all use a little hawthorn medicine to replenish our hearts, to recover from the loss of our sense of normalcy, the loss of our loved ones, and the loss of our functioning society as we knew it before the pandemic. Interested in trying a product with hawthorn? I make delicious Elderberry Hawthorn Syrup.

2. Milky Oats

Milky Oats (Avena sativa), oh milky oats. Thank you for existing this year! Phew. Just thinking about milky oats’ medicine brings me a big sigh of relief. You’ll find milky oats as an ingredient in many nerve nourishing tinctures. Milky oats can help us when our nerves are fried, when we’re feeling on edge and tense, to ease on down. With all the fear, anxiety, and uncertainty we’ve experienced this year, milky oats would be a great herbal tonic to use over time to calm and replenish the nervous system. This year, I’ve used a number of tinctures that have included milky oats as well as in tea blends. I like to mix it into a lot of my daily drinks.

3. Elecampane

Elecampane (Inula helenium) is a pungent herb that is typically used for respiratory infections. As someone living in so-called California during Covid-19 and some of the worst fires this year, elecampane felt like a godsend! I received some elecampane infused honey from an herbal mentorship I’ve been participating in through Dr. Jacqui Wilkins, ND of Xálish Medicines. It’s delicious on its own, but I also love putting it into my morning chai. It makes breathing easier and feels as though it expands your lung capacity. This year, it’s been so hard to feel like I can take a deep breath and elecampane really helped me learn to breathe deeply again. Many of us this year have been walking around trying not to breathe, so I recommend communing and meditating with some elecampane medicine. I also think generally this herb would be an excellent one to have on hand in case you contract Covid-19 as it could help alleviate some of the symptoms commonly associated with the illness.

4. Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is a replenishing and calming adaptogen that helps us deal with long-term stress and exhaustion. Sounds like the perfect herb for this year, right? Additionally, many (including myself) find this herb to help with insomnia and restlessness. When you’re finding it hard to relax and are feeling on edge, a decoction or tincture of ashwagandha could support a restful nights’ sleep, help calm an agitated mind so you can be less emotionally reactive, and also increase your ability to concentrate. For these reasons, ashwagandha has been an indispensable herb for the year.

5. Damiana

Damiana (Turnera diffusa) enhances mood and sensation. Many use this herb as an aphrodisiac (learn more about herbal aphrodisiacs here), which I’d most certainly say that it is! But more than an aphrodisiac, damiana can pull us out of depression. Damiana helps us tune into our body, improving circulation, and our ability to sense the world around us. While it can help boost libido, I think it also helps us to remember what it’s like to find joy in simple sensations like the wind caressing our face, the textures of plants, the taste of a delicious drink, and maybe that touch we’ve been longing for in Covid-19 times. I tend to be in my head and thoughts a lot which can bring me anxiety in social situations and damiana in my experience really helps to ground us and bring us back into our body which in turn can improve our sociability.

That’s a quick rundown of my top 5 favorite herbs that I’ve used throughout 2020, I’d love to hear what has helped you through this year in the comments below. 😊

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Why Moonflower? The power of Datura!

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This post is not encouraging you to consume Datura, but please do check out La Abeja Herbs’ essence (link below)!

My fascination with Datura, otherwise known as Moonflower or Jimson Weed, began in a Plants and People course I took in college. Mainly, we learned about plants that are used as ceremonial plants or pharmaceutical drugs and their active constituents. I remember hearing about Datura and the vivid and terrifying hallucinogenic visions it can give to someone who consumes it. How powerful plants can be and how we must show them the respect that they deserve. They have the power to heal, to kill, and to provide profound visions. Many modern medicines are formulated as synthetic replications of natural plant constituents.

Datura plant growing next to a building at Wild Willow Farm in San Diego

So why did I choose this plant as the name of my Etsy business and blog?

  • To me, Datura represents giving death to those things that no longer serve us. Datura gives us the power to let go and let the natural world take the wheel (used as an anesthetic).
  • Datura opens the door to your intuitive self and your creative side.
  • Every time I see the blooms, they take my breath away. They seem to have a very strong spirit or ghostly presence, I want to evoke this strength in my work.

Shortly after choosing this name, Datura popped up everywhere for me. I came across this flower essence from La Abeja Herbs and immediately purchased some to try. Not long after that, Sophia Rose, the owner of La Abeja Herbs, went on the Medicine Stories podcast and specifically spoke about the Datura essence (she sells many essences). I’d see posts all over Instagram with Datura. Then, when I went to San Diego for an herbal course with Ana Victoria and Damiana of La Tierra Buena Collective, Datura was growing around the farm. It felt right, like she was giving me permission to use her name. Mariee Sioux‘s song “Wild Eyes” opens the Medicine Stories podcast. I’ve listened to Mariee Sioux since maybe my senior year of high school, and she just recently put out a new album with Datura on the cover and began growing some herself. Datura is intoxicating, alluring, mysterious, and powerful! It’s hard not to fall in love with her blooms. I want what I put into the world to be just as mesmerizing.

Datura blossom at Wild Willow Farm in San Diego

I also think it’s important to mention that I currently live in California and many indigenous groups here have a relationship with Datura in ceremony and coming of age rituals. Chumash peoples’ rituals center around a this plant and its spirit, Momoy, a wise old grandmother. Consuming the Datura helped the youths to transition into adulthood by connecting them with a spirit guide. It’s also believed to grow in areas where there are portals to the realm of ancestors.

When I decided to study Anthropology, it was after reading many of Wade Davis’ books. One in particular called The Serpent and the Rainbow is an account of how Datura was used in Haiti to create vodoun zombies. Many historically and even still today think of third world countries and indigenous cultures as “primitive” and “underdeveloped,” however, there are profound and complex medicines and rituals found in all indigenous cultures throughout history. This knowledge is many times stolen and patented while those passing down this ancient wisdom are left without credit. Datura is a prime example of the power of these traditional medicines, and the epitome of why we should respect the earth, her people, and the rituals and cycles that unite us all.

I think Vandana Shiva says it best:

“I have called this phenomenon of stealing common knowledge and indigenous science “biopiracy” and “intellectual piracy.” According to patent systems we shouldn’t be able to patent what exists as “prior art.” But the United States patent system is somewhat perverted. First of all, it does not treat the prior art of other societies as “prior art.” Therefore anyone from the United States can travel to another country, find out about the use of a medicinal plant, or find a seed that farmers use, come back here, claim it as an invention or an innovation.”

To sum it up Datura, Moonflower, to me says: Power to the people, power to each of us as individuals, to continue in reverence for the earth and her medicines that sustain us and with respect to our ancestors and all future generations. ❤️

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