Grief isn’t always obvious.
It’s been more than a year since my mother died. Something this grief journey told me is that I’d been carrying grief in my body long before I bathed her grave in red rose petals. So many of us walk around carrying dead or dying pieces and they didn’t always come from something as easily recognizable as a loved one dying. Trauma can take its time to make it known to the conscious mind, but it’s always been there. If we pay attention we realize we’ve been grieving a lot longer than we’ve been awake. The grieving never stops, never ceases, only its form and expression changes.
Loss is change. Grief is change. God is change.
The changes working with grief as a teacher brings are difficult to go at alone, and I’ve been in deep gratitude to all my support systems. In my community I have recognized chosen family again as some of the most important relationships I will ever tend to, as they tended to me. In myself I have recognized my own capacity for resilience and healing. In spirit I have known ancestors and guides and felt them hold my spine straight. In this world I have always been able to turn to plant allies and let them warm and soothe a breaking heart.
These are my most trusted allies. I hope that whatever your grief looks like today, you are able to turn to them to help heal your heart. As always approach plants with the respect they deserve and be aware of all health conditions and possible interactions before beginning an herbal remedy or formula.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
I’ve often thought of Dandelion as the perfect herb for The Fool, specifically in the late summer when it takes to the wind and drifts to land wherever it may.
I don’t think The Fool is always a happy-go-lucky figure off to their next adventure. Sometimes they’ve packed up all that they have left in the world, and are off on their grieving journey, feeling reckless and like they’ve got no choice but to move forward, at worst jump off the cliff – just so something can shake loose. That’s grieving in a nutshell, for me. Which makes the transformation potential of Dandelion a dearly beloved plant ally.
Drink a tea of Dandelion root and leaves to help ground yourself during this difficult time. Dandelion flower essence is particularly useful, gentle, and calming to your emotional and spiritual landscape. When it feels insurmountable, like there’s no way to start healing, call in Dandelion’s spirit to help move those difficult emotions in your gut and begin the process of release that is necessary for healing.
Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)
Or Mamawort as I’m fond of calling this bitter herb. The life of a healer is often filled with moments of pain, sadness, and at times helplessness. Sometimes, those moments can become days, weeks, even years if left unmanaged. Here’s where Mamawort comes to interrupt the stagnancy of darkness and move us to seek light.
Mamawort is aptly named for the lionhearted, and is an awesome source of support and reinforcement for healers and caregivers. It’s bitter qualities help us break through heaviness and discomfort in the gut, often manifesting as difficulty with digestion. The body holds trauma, and gut issues usually follow extreme stress. As a nervine it helps ease the anxiety and tension can overtake us in our sorrow. There is space for joy and pleasure even through grief, Mamawort helps us find it.
Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)
A standby for all issues of the heart, Hawthorn is the protection we need around us when we are as tender as we are in grief. Great as a tea, essence or tincture.
Hawthorn-supported boundaries protect our heart while keeping it soft and open. Over time, Hawthorn helps it all make sense- there’s no space in time as confusing as those first throes of grief. Relying on Hawthorn helped me make sense of my experience as much as could be possible. This then helped me stay in my body, ground, and stop the constant feeling of wanting to crawl right out.
Hawthorn also works slowly, over time, which mirrored my own walk with grief. It taught me patience, and the compassion needed to fully feel into whatever emotions came up in my grief journey.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Selflessness is an attribute often associated with healing. It takes someone special to give of themselves so freely- and yes, even when it feels like obligation (work through the guilt of this word, obligation is not an evil word) the part of you that is giving is practicing selflessness (or working towards it).
However, I find that healing often leads to self–lessness.
We begin lose ourselves as we sink deeper and deeper into our role, forgetting to remember our own health, basic needs, and self-care. When we get to this place, and even before we get to this place, we turn to Rosemary to remember ourselves. Rosemary as an herb of memory is perfect for this work of becoming present in ourselves one more. In addition, Rosemary is grounding and gently lifts our energy and lightens our outlook.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
For those of us who move in the world with bleeding hearts- be careful do not mistake bleeding for weak- Yarrow stands with us and stems the flow of blood giving us the precious moments needed to heal. Yarrow is divine medicine for the wounded warrior- activists, educators, healers, caregivers, all you who live your life in service to others upliftment and growth.
Call in Yarrow’s magic to help banish melancholy from your body, mind, and spirit that has set in and seems immovable. Allow it to be the support or shelter when everything seems to be spinning out of your control, let it help you ground yourself as you re-establish your foundation. Yarrow grounds without holding down, and is still useful for those looking through the veil, helping to provide clarity and discernment.
Okay, Water is not an herb, but let’s just go with it.
One of the constant challenges that arises with deep grieving is dehydration. Many things that come with grief cause this: crying, some folks experience intense sweats as the pain rolls through their body, a lack of desire to eat or drink anything when heartbroken, or even our tendency to salty and sweet comfort foods with low water content. Grief takes its toll on the body which makes it all the more important to support its health and wellness. Drinking lots of water as you work through grief and/or trauma is an easy way to support your efforts on a physical level.
Suddenly, strange and quiet, like under water…
-Ibeyi, Transmission (Ash 2017)
Spiritually, the uses of water are infinite. Sweet water, Oshun’s freshwater, cool water, quenches thirsts, soothing and sweetening our spirits. This is the water that keeps us soft when we feel dry and brittle. It is this that refreshes us, cleanses us gently and improves our capacity for self-compassion.
Salt water, Yemaya’s water, cleanses us with salt and invites us to give it our grief, trauma, fears, all that is too heavy to carry feels weightless in the water. It is the ancient womb cradle of all the earth, even science acknowledges that we began here before crawled to land.
Ways to connect can be as simple us drinking cool water often to replenish yourself as you release what you need to or more involved like an offering to the river or ocean. Connect however you can.
If I speak Water then I must acknowledge Honey.
Honey helps the medicine go down. Honey is the medicine. Honey helps us to take care of ourselves, do the difficult thing, swallow the dry, large, and sharp edged. Its stickiness keeps us connected. Honey helps us see how these pieces of ourselves that have broken apart can be alchemized into something sweet, potent, and long lasting. It reminds us that even through grief there is abundance.
A drop of honey on our tongue supports the trembling smile that smoothly cuts through veils of pain. Deep in the bitterness of grief, Honey’s unassailable sweetness helped me hold on to love as the connection to those I lost from this world.
Honey preserves our heart.
*names capitalized to indicate them as energetic entities unto themselves we can call upon to support us.