October is traditionally a month where our ancestors would have prepared for a period of quietness and reflection during the darker months. On 31st of course we now celebrate Hallowe’en (All Hallow’s Eve) which is descended from the Celtic new year festival of Samhain. This was a time to take stock after gathering all the food to see us through the coming winter, and reflect on the events of the past year, including those who had passed during that time. So it seems appropriate to talk about herbal remedies for grief and loss.
The word ‘grief’ means ‘intense sorrow’ and specifically relates to a bereavement, although we can also feel intense sorrow
following loss of a relationship, homeland or anything else we were very fond of. It’s a process we all will come to experience at some point in our lives, and I must admit that until very recently I’d forgotten how uncomfortable grief is, especially following a suicide. Of course it’s normal to feel shocked, numb, sad, angry, bewildered and a host of other emotions when we grieve, and when grief overshadows our whole life its tempting to try and find ways to escape from the pain. These days we’re conditioned not to tolerate any kind of discomfort. We have easy ways out of feeling too hot, cold, hungry, or being in pain, so we’re not at all comfortable with being uncomfortable. Quite often a grieving person will go to their Doctor and be prescribed antidepressants, which although they may be effective, certainly have their downsides. Grief is a normal process which usually doesn’t need to be medicated if we process all the accompanying emotions properly. However, our mood, sleep, and day to day functioning can suffer and herbal remedies for loss and grief can prove very helpful in helping to restore balance.
Some Useful Herbal Remedies For Grief
Roses are traditionally associated with love, which is why we give them on Valentine’s Day. Herbalists use Rose tincture or syrup as a ‘hug in a bottle’, especially for those who feel misunderstood by others. Alongside Lavender and Chamomile it works wonderfully for children too.
‘Tree of Happiness’ is a beautiful tree from China used to lift the sadness of grief. It works quickly and especially well with Rose, although it might be quite difficult to get hold of if you’re not seeing a Herbalist.
Oats are a wonderful herb for anyone who’s suffering from nervous exhaustion and prone to crying easily. They’re have a very strengthening and sustaining quality and are easily incorporated into our diet, although Herbalists tend to harvest them for medicine when they’re still green and milky.
Adaptogens help our bodies to cope with long term stress, which inevitably comes as part of the grief package. There are lots of different kinds and your Herbalist will choose the right ones for you according to how you’re feeling. A useful one for grief though is Hawthorn flowers. Hawthorn is part of the rose family and can be used to start recirculating the ‘vital force’ which can become stuck during grief. I use it with people who slump and slouch for any reason. Shock and grief are both very stressful and our adrenal glands pump out stress hormones in response. Like all adaptogens, Hawthorn supports the adrenals and helps them to calm down even when the stressful situation is ongoing.
Holy Basil and Frankinsence are traditionally used in religious ceremonies to help us feel calmer. Frankinsence is often burned in Catholic and Orthodox churches, helping us to breathe more deeply, which in itself is very calming. Energetically we hold grief in the lungs, so herbs which encourage our lungs to relax and expand are really important.
Other herbs I use in grief really depend on how it’s affecting the patient. Sedatives can help a person to get restful, restorative sleep if they’re suffering with insomnia, or to manage any panic attacks during the day. Herbs like Thyme and Borage can help us where self confidence has been knocked following a death. Others can be used to help someone move through ‘stagnant depression’ where they’ve held on to their grief for many years following a death and found it impossible to move on. Whatever your situation, herbal remedies for grief can help make life more bearable until you feel better able to manage by yourself.
Other Ways In Which Plants Can Help Us Deal With Grief
Personally I find gardening very grounding when I feel stressed or anxious, and there have been lots of studies on why this may be. Plants give off chemicals in the form of both essential oils and phytoncides, which are known to have a calming effect on the human brain. Aromatherapy is therefore another great way of uplifting, calming or energising you when you need a quick fix.
Planting a tree is also becoming a more popular way to create a living memorial to someone who’s died. If you choose to do this, you could put a letter to the person who’s passed, or some trinkets of theirs in the hole as you plant. Many people feel better for doing this.
The grieving process becomes much easier when we accept that we’re going to feel bad for a while and go with the flow. Allowing ourselves to feel uncomfortable enables us to move through grief more quickly and completely, so that the happier times come sooner. If you’re grieving and having a particularly bad day, try to remember that it won’t last forever, and of course, make sure you check in with the plants.
Do You Need Help Choosing Herbal Remedies For Grief? Let’s talk about it now.
This blog is written in remembrance of two of my greatest teachers: Louise Hay and Christopher Hedley who have both passed in recent months. Whilst you may be familiar with the work of Louise Hay, Christopher was a much loved and revered teacher of herbal medicine. His wisdom about the plant kingdom was other worldly. He was gentle, kind and patient with all of his students and will be very much missed by all of us in his ‘tribe’ of Herbalists. You can see him here.
And just in case you’ve never heard of Louise Hay, she’s here too.