Which herbs are right for me?
Whenever you read anything about herbs they seem to do so many things it can be difficult to know which ones might suit you best. Well help is at hand. All you need to know is how to balance the qualities of how you feel with the specific balancing quality of the plant(s). It’s all about observing the world in and around you as well as using the language of nature to describe what you need. The clue is in the words we use to express our experience of life; ‘she’s as cool as a cucumber’, ‘he’s got a fiery character’, ‘what a dry sense of humour’, ‘this ginger is hot!’. It’s going to be easy….
I plan my whole life using these ideas. From the clothes I wear, to the foods I eat, to how I spend my day. Understanding the qualities I am feeling each day teaches me what I need, how much of them and when. For example, because I have more of a cold, dry and thin vata constitution. If I am feeling more tired, cold and less clear-headed than usual I will have an oily massage to nourish my skin and bring me rest, drink more spicy teas to warm me up, take ashwagandha to help me ground and eat soft and easy-to-digest foods with lots of ghee to build me up. These all help to offset my tendency to feeling cold-dry and spaced out. On the other hand, if I have been out celebrating too much and I feel a bit ‘full’, heavy and hot then I will cool my system down with some Cleanse Tea that has nettle leaf in, drink some Clean Greens including wheatgrass juice, chlorella and spirulina taken with some Aloe Vera Juice.
Knowing how you feel is pretty simple; do you often feel cold or hot? Do you regularly have cold hands or do you flush easily? Do you have low metabolism or heartburn? Do you have dry or oily skin? Are you full of beans or feel a bit lack-lustre? Starting to tune in to how you feel and describing those feelings points you in the right direction. Try our dosha quiz to find out more about yourself.
Once you know your needs you can start to look for some herbs that might suit you and this involves understanding their character. The idea that plants have a ‘character’ might take a bit of getting used to but you will instinctively know a lot about this already as its been embedded in our culture for centuries (‘dock leaves cool nettle stings, chamomile for sweet dreams or ginger-lemon-honey for colds’ etc).
If you know the temperature of a plant (whether its effect in the body is heating or cooling), its fluid nature (whether its moistening or drying), its energizing effects (whether its light or heavy) then you can work out what you need to balance your temperature, fluid levels and energy; if you are cold then take warming herbs, if too dry then choose moistening herbs, if too tired then select light and energizing herbs. The tradition of herbalism describes a logical way to balance health by teaching a simple theory to practice effective herbal health. Like any system, be it French or Flamenco dancing, you just need to learn it. Read the table below to see some pointers:
Hot e.g. Ginger
Cold e.g. Aloe
Wet e.g. Shatavari
Dry e.g. Nettle
Light e.g. Rose
Heavy e.g. Valerian
You can apply these insights to anything; environments, foods, moods, your friends. The environment is the easiest to understand as we all experience the wet-dry, cold-hot, heavy-light fluctuations of the weather. Have a go at noticing when the weather affects how you feel and think what can off-set this; how a hot soup warms your cockles on a chilly day or a cooling swim on a sweltering one.
As I said, its pretty simple but it can take some learning to understand some of the detail. From Hippocrates to Culpepper to today, herbalists have collected very specific knowledge about individual herbs telling us what aspects of health they are particularly good for; hot and dry thyme for the lungs, hot and dry ginger for digestion, hot and dry cinnamon for balancing blood sugar. The character is a clue to the personality, but rather like people, plants have their unique idiosyncrasies too.
Have a look at some of these example and see how they suit you:
You Are Feeling…
A cup of Three Ginger and 10 star jumps.
A sip of Aloe Vera Juice and a stretch in the fresh air.
Wholistic Shatavari with an oil massage.
A cup of Three Mint and a walk in the park.
Cold & Tired
A spoon of Vitalise with ginseng in and some restorative yoga.
Tired & Wired
A cup of Relax with some soothing meditation.
Cold & Sluggish
Hot & Oily
A cup of Relax and a big deep breath.
A cup of Love and a big bear hug.
A cup of Three Tulsi and a walk in the woods.
A cup of Night Time and a moment to lie down.
Read more about these ideas in my book A Pukka Life. It describes the fundamentals for understanding the language of nature and how to learn what herbs suit you.
Being a herbalist for the last 15 years has taught me two things; you are your best doctor and nature is the greatest healer. When you tune in to your own needs then she works her magic for you. Look around, put a healing language to your world and it will transform how you engage with it.
I hope that having a helping hand with some of these simple principles guides you to what herbs are right for you, bringing you the confidence to explore further and enjoy the wonders of our herbal world.